Judge dismisses paper-ballot lawsuit in Georgia’s 6th District

Voters in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District will continue to cast ballots on electronic machines after a Fulton County judge dismissed a lawsuit trying to force the use of paper ballots.

Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams' ruling late Friday night came after an eight-hour hearing earlier this week over the suit's insistence that Georgia's reliance on voting machines was endangering the vote. The machines, it said, are too old, unreliable and vulnerable to malicious cyber attacks without a forensic review to verify they had not been compromised.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp celebrated Adams' decision, which came two weeks into the state's mandatory three-week early voting period for the nationally watched June 20 runoff between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff​.

“During my time as Secretary of State, I have worked tirelessly to ensure security at the ballot box,” Kemp said. “When this group and Ivy League professors tried to disrupt the 6th District runoff, we fought them in court and won. I applaud the judge for finding what we already know: Our voting machines in Georgia are safe and accurate.”​

Georgia uses touch-screen direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines. The state committed to the machines in 2002 when it last overhauled its elections system. At the same time, it eliminated a paper trail of recorded votes. Cybersecurity experts who testified at the hearing said one way Georgia could mitigate concerns about the machines is by having some sort of paper trail that voters could verify as being correct.

Adams’ in her nine-page decision did not specifically say the machines were safe or accurate, but among a number of legal factors said “in the absence of evidence” that the machines had widely malfunctioned or skewed results, “this court cannot adopt plaintiffs’ conclusion that Georgia’s DRE voting equipment and its related voting system are unsafe, inaccurate and impracticable within the meaning” of state law.

In other words, Adams said, the plaintiffs “have failed to demonstrate any concrete harm.”

Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Foundation, a plaintiff in the suit, said the group would keep at it, calling paper ballots a “gold standard” for voters.

​“We are disappointed that in this short hearing, there was insufficient opportunity to present the overwhelming evidence of alarmingly unsecured operations of Georgia’s voting system environment and its serious security vulnerabilities,” Marks said. “Secretary Kemp has seriously misrepresented the court’s findings — the court did not opine on the security or accuracy of the machines. The machines are not at all secure, so we plan to continue this fight.”

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

State and local election officials testified that changing that system now would have brought chaos to the election process. More than 75,000 people as of Friday morning had already voted in the contest using the machines, with no reported problems.