New polling machines wait to be used at the Paulding County Municipal Building on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2019, in Dallas, Ga. Paulding County tested Georgia’s new voting machines on Monday during municipal elections. Paulding and five other counties were the first to test the new machines that will be in all polling stations in the state for the March 24 presidential primary election. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Rebecca Wright
Photo: Rebecca Wright

Problems with new Georgia voting system found in test election

Voting machines rebooted in the middle of voting. Computers couldn’t program the cards voters use to activate voting machines. One voter inserted a driver’s license into the voting machine, causing it to go blank.

Those were some of the 45 incidents reported during a test run of Georgia’s new voting system, according to a summary from the secretary of state’s office. The pilot was conducted in six counties, where 27,482 ballots were cast in this month’s election.

The test identified issues with the voting system, which combines touchscreens with printed-out paper ballots, that can now be corrected before it’s used statewide in the March 24 presidential primary, said Gabe Sterling, the chief operating officer for the secretary of state’s office.

“These problems are mainly human-based,” Sterling said. “We can train and train, and our plan is to train again. That’s going to be the main thing that’s going to make these things work properly.”

Sterling said he’s confident that the state’s voting system will be ready for the presidential primary, and all equipment is scheduled for delivery by late January.

“We feel like we are in a good position to make sure that these kinds of issues don’t happen,” Sterling said. “Now we’re going to have the ability to deal with them and shine a light on those problems.”

Here’s a look at some of the incidents that occurred in Bartow, Carroll, Catoosa, Decatur, Lowndes and Paulding counties during testing:

Check-in computers: Some voters were delayed when polls opened on Election Day because iPads used to check in voters couldn’t encode the voter access cards that activate touchscreen voting machines. The iPads got stuck when they incorrectly asked poll workers to select a political party for voters, even though this month’s election wasn’t a partisan primary.

The problem was caused by a programming error in a data set loaded onto the iPads before Election Day to verify whether someone has already voted. It was resolved when state election officials asked county workers to turn on Wi-Fi on the iPads. Then the tablets downloaded corrected data from a server run by KnowInk, the company that provided the iPads to Georgia.

Rebooted touchscreens: Several voting machines restarted themselves, sometimes while voters were in the middle of completing their ballots. In most cases, the machines returned to normal after they were turned off and back on. Four touchscreens were taken out of service “out of an abundance of caution,” according to the secretary of state’s office. All voters were still able to cast their ballots.

Ballot scanning: After touchscreens printed out ballots, it took several tries before some scanning machines would accept voters’ ballots. The issues were resolved by trying again, submitting ballots face-down or replacing the scanner.

Power: Election workers couldn’t initially find live power outlets in Decatur County. Some power sources weren’t plugged into touchscreens correctly in Catoosa County.

Late results: A technician used the same file names for several memory cards containing vote tabulations, which prevented results from loading correctly and caused delays in Lowndes County on election night.

Wrong card: A voter in Carroll County inserted a driver’s license into a touchscreen instead of inserting the voter access card. The screen then went black. The touchscreen was rebooted, but the black screen issue occurred “multiple times” on that voting machine.

Read the election pilot report

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