Testing of new Georgia voting machines remains unfinished

Grovetown - Scott Tucker from Dominion Voting unloads equipment for his presentation. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Grovetown - Scott Tucker from Dominion Voting unloads equipment for his presentation. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Georgia's new voting machines haven't yet passed state tests of their accuracy and reliability, a required step before they can be used in elections.

The testing of Dominion Voting System’s equipment is expected to be completed soon, said Georgia Secretary of State spokeswoman Tess Hammock on Monday. Dominion’s voting system, which combines touchscreen voting machines and paper ballots, already received federal certification in January.

Until the state’s own tests are completed, it’s unknown whether there are any potential problems with Georgia’s new voting system that need to be corrected.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced last week that Dominion won a $107 million contract to provide voting equipment to the state's 7 million registered voters. State rules require voting systems to complete testing and be certified by the secretary of state before they can be put into service.

The Dominion system will replace Georgia's 17-year-old electronic voting machines, which lack a paper ballot. With the new machines, voters will still pick their candidates on a touchscreen computer, which is attached to a printer that will create a paper ballot. Voters can then review their choices and insert their ballot into a scanning machine for tabulation.

“Dominion’s certification will be coming soon,” Hammock said. “It’s on track.”

Georgia awards contract for new election system

One other voting system company, Election Systems & Software, finished its certification testing, which is being conducted by Huntsville, Ala.-based Pro V&V, before Raffensperger announced that the contract went to Dominion, Hammock said. It's unclear why Dominion's testing isn't finished yet.

ES&S is Georgia’s current voting company, which was the runner-up in the state’s competitive bidding process for the voting contract. State evaluators gave ES&S’ system the highest score based on the government’s specifications for the contract, but Dominion received the highest overall score because its system was less expensive.

“We believe first in scoring, plus our record of service and the flawless certification by an independent lab, proves ES&S offered the best voting system for Georgia voters,” said Katina Granger, a spokeswoman for ES&S.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission certified this version of Dominion's voting system, called Democracy Suite 5.5-A, last January. The EAC's testing identified two issues that the agency labeled as "insignificant": a touchscreen computer froze while voting for a write-in candidate, requiring a reboot; and testing documentation was missing from Dominion.

In Texas, six state evaluators unanimously rejected certifying Dominion’s voting system in June because of “multiple hardware and software issues.” Evaluators were concerned about whether the system preserved ballot secrecy and operated efficiently.

A spokeswoman for Dominion referred comment to the Secretary of State’s Office.

While it seems “a little premature” to award a contract for voting machines before they’re certified by the state, Georgia deserves credit for going beyond federal testing standards and doing its own testing, said Marian Schneider, the president of Verified Voting, a national election integrity organization.

“The only risk is that (Dominion) might have to make some modifications to comply with Georgia law, but usually those modifications don’t cause a delay,” Schneider said. “The secretary of state probably has a good reason for announcing it sooner than later, maybe just to settle the speculation” about which company would sell Georgia’s voting machines.

Election officials are on a tight timeline to finalize the contract and install Dominion's voting system before it's scheduled to be used statewide in the presidential preference primary election March 24.

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