Georgia to shift elections work in-house, away from Kennesaw State

Merle King, the executive director for the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University, explains how a DRE, a touch-screen machine voters use when casting their ballot, works. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

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Merle King, the executive director for the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University, explains how a DRE, a touch-screen machine voters use when casting their ballot, works. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

Georgia, for the first time in more than a decade, has decided to move all its elections work in-house after a series of security lapses forced it to step away from its longtime relationship with the beleaguered elections center at Kennesaw State University.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office and university officials both confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the two entities have signed a final contract good through June 2018. For the first time, however, it includes a provision for either party to terminate it midstream.

That’s because the office over the next year will build its own team to run Georgia’s elections — work the KSU center has done for the past 15 years.

”Today my office and Kennesaw State University executed what will be the final contract between our two entities related to the Center for Election Systems,” Secretary of State Brian Kemp said in a statement to the AJC. “The ever-changing landscape of technology demands that we change with it.

“The Secretary of State’s office is equipped, trained and tested to handle these operations in-house,” Kemp said. “I am confident that this move will ensure Georgia continues to have secure, accessible and fair elections for years to come.”

State officials said the decision to keep working with the university until the state builds its own team stemmed from a desire to not disrupt service to county election officials across Georgia. Local officials must make sure training standards and other work is done throughout the year. There are also elections to run in November.

The idea, the Secretary of State’s Office said, is to allow it to take the time needed to establish a new operational election headquarters. It has not been determined how long that will take, although it is possible it could take less than a year.

University officials are expected to help with that work.

“We support the secretary of state’s decision,” Kennesaw State President Sam Olens said Friday, “and look forward to helping facilitate a smooth transition.”

The university center has helped run Georgia’s elections for the past 15 years, but earlier this year it found itself mired in controversy over security lapses uncovered by private cybersecurity researcher Logan Lamb.

Lamb discovered prior to the 2016 presidential election that a misconfigured server at the center had exposed more than 6.5 million voter records and other sensitive information — a situation that some voting advocates said could be used to alter the state's election system. Although the center tried to fix the problem, a second researcher earlier this year found he could also access the material.

The Secretary of State's Office said last month that it was "actively investigating alternative arrangements" to using the center, although it also acknowledged it would be a decision that would take time to implement if the office decided to drop the center's services.

The center’s previous annual $800,000 contract with the state ended June 30. Its new contract, according to terms released to the AJC, is worth $815,320. Among provisions in the document is a requirement for the center’s technology staff to receive training and supervision in the secure management of all data.

lawsuit filed in Fulton County earlier this month cited the security lapses in requesting that results from last month's hotly contested 6th Congressional District special election be thrown out and the contest redone.

There is no evidence that the state's system has been compromised. Georgia experienced no major problems during last year's presidential election or during the 6th District special election. State election officials have also said Georgia's voting systems were not affected by the hacking attempts detailed last month in a top-secret federal government report about Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election.


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