The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Barry Fleming, said the legislation strengthens democracy and increases confidence in election results.
"We would now introduce to Georgia voting on paper ballots," said Fleming, a Republican from Harlem. "You would be able to look at that piece of paper and confirm that your choices are correct."
House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, a Democrat from Luthersville, said he trusts tech experts who say switching Georgia to another computerized election system would be a mistake.
"It's unequivocally clear that cybersecurity experts have expressed concerns about the ballot-marking devices," Trammell said. "It comes down to whether you think the opinion of election officials ... is more important than the issue of credentialed experts in the field talking about a material risk to the voting process."
During about seven hours of public comments this week, voters opposing the new touchscreen-and-paper system said it could be just as vulnerable as the state’s current system of direct-recording electronic voting machines, or DREs. They said voters wouldn’t necessarily catch errors on printed ballots, and voting information could be encoded in bar codes that humans wouldn’t be able to verify. They prefer paper ballots bubbled in with a pen.
“The only difference between DREs and ballot-marking devices is paper which gives voters the illusion of verifiability,” Susan McWethy of Decatur said during a hearing Wednesday.
Election officials dismiss those fears. They say they’re confident in their security protocols, and they haven’t seen evidence of interference.
2/20/19 - Atlanta - Richard DeMillo, a Georgia Tech computing professor, spoke about voting machine hacking during public comment. The Governmental Affairs Elections Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Alan Powell, held its second day of hearings on House Bill 316, which would change the state’s voting system. Bob Andres / email@example.com
“We’re dedicated to making sure as election officials that there’s no tampering with the system,” said Rockdale County Elections Supervisor Cynthia Willingham. “Voters have said they like electronic voting, but they like a piece of paper in their hand.”
If the voting machine legislation, House Bill 316, becomes law, Georgia election officials would seek competitive bids from voting system companies.
Then, voters could test the ballot-marking devices during municipal elections this November before statewide implementation in time for the 2020 presidential primary election.
State legislators will next consider the bill in the House Rules Committee, which could schedule it for a vote in the full House. If approved, the legislation would then move to the state Senate.
Why it matters
A new statewide voting system would change the way Georgia’s 7 million registered voters cast their ballots. The system under consideration by state legislators would cost about $150 million. It would replace the state’s 17-year-old electronic voting machines with touchscreens that print paper ballots.
Two voting systems
Georgia lawmakers are considering a bill to replace the state’s 17-year-old electronic voting machines with a voting system that includes a paper ballot. The legislation, House Bill 316, calls for the state to use ballot-marking devices, but some voters prefer paper ballots bubbled in with a pen.
- How it works: Ballot-marking devices are a voting system that combines technology and paper ballots. Voters tap a touchscreen to make their selections, similar to the state's current voting voting machines. The touchscreen is attached to a printer that spits out a paper ballot. Then voters could review their choices on the paper ballot before inserting it into an optical scanning machine for tabulation.
- Security concerns: Cybersecurity experts and election integrity advocates oppose ballot-marking devices. They say ballot-marking devices could be hacked to alter election results. Unlike ballots filled out by hand, ballot-marking devices print text of voters' choices and, in some cases, encode those choices into bar codes for machine tabulation. Critics of ballot-marking devices say voters wouldn't be able to know if the bar codes matched their printed choices.
- Tech support: Georgia election officials support ballot-marking devices, saying the touchscreens are easy to use and create a paper ballot that could be used to check election results. Backers of ballot-marking devices say printed ballots avoid problems of hand-marked paper ballots, which could be invalidated by stray pen marks or human errors. Ballot-marking devices also include accessibility options to accommodate disabled voters, such as adjustable type size.