Marietta - Voters wait in line at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia, on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Cobb, Fulton and North DeKalb residents cast ballots today for the highly contested 6th Congressional District race. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

Lawsuit seeks paper ballots in Georgia’s 6th District runoff

Georgia’s voting infrastructure is too old, unreliable and vulnerable to be used without a forensic review of its operating systems, according to a lawsuit seeking to require voters’ use of paper ballots for next month’s 6th Congressional District runoff election.

The suit, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, names Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp — the state’s top election official — as a defendant, along with the election directors for all three counties that have communities in the 6th District: Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton.

It comes at a crucial time. Early in-person voting for the June 20 runoff begins Tuesday, with all eyes on Georgia ahead of the hotly contested race between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Kemp reacted strongly to the allegations, which dovetail with a push by voting advocates for Georgia to commit to new election systems with the capability of producing a paper audit trail — something the state does not currently have.

“Georgia leads on cybersecurity and safe elections,” said Kemp. “Our voting systems are rock-solid,” he added, “and we are more than willing to put them to the test in the court of law.”

The Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Foundation filed the suit in conjunction with two Georgia voters, Donna Curling and Donna Price. Both Price and Curling are members of the foundation, which focuses on fair elections and government transparency, as well as a group called Georgians for Verified Voting.

Curling, a Fulton resident, lives in the 6th District, according to the suit. Price does not, and lives in DeKalb.

Georgia uses direct-recording electronic voting machines, or DREs, known by voters for their touch screens. The state committed to the machines in 2002 when it last overhauled its elections system. At the same time, it also eliminated a paper trail of recorded votes.

Georgia experienced no major problems during last year’s presidential election, and the current system has different layers of security and controls built into it to limit and detect unauthorized access.

The suit, however, notes that most recently Fulton experienced a technical problem April 18 that delayed reporting of election results because of what officials called a “rare error” involving a voting memory card that didn’t properly upload its tallies.

The suit, however, said the error should have been detected sooner than it was. It also cited other concerns, such as a recent investigation by the FBI into a potential hacking case at the Kennesaw State University’s Center for Election Systems — which works with the state to run its voting efforts.

The agency, after a month-long investigation said a “security researcher” was responsible and that his probing of the system broke no federal law. Advocates said the incident raised concerns of security vulnerabilities at the center that needed deeper scrutiny.

Any commitment by Georgia to overhaul its election systems would require tens of millions of dollars and would have to be implemented statewide.

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