Thousands of voting machines in limbo because of 6th District lawsuit

Thousands of voting machines from the hotly contested 6th Congressional District special election are currently off-limits for future use because of a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the results.

That worries metro Atlanta officials who say they could be short of spare machines to run municipal elections in November.

The suit, filed over the July 4 holiday, demands that Republican Karen Handel's win in a June 20 runoff be thrown out and the contest redone over concerns some election integrity advocates have about the security and accuracy of Georgia's election infrastructure.

The machines and related hardware are central to that system, and the three metro counties with areas in the 6th District — Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton — have stored the machines used in the special election after plaintiffs sought to preserve electronic records that could have bearing on the suit.

That includes keeping intact memory cards — which might otherwise be wiped clean in preparation for a new election — as well as residual memory on the machines. Voting on the machines is anonymous — the records can't be used to identify personal information about a specific voter — but they do track and tally how many votes are cast on individual machines or in the election overall.

Advocates who filed the suit said they aren’t trying to derail the state’s elections schedule or any of those counties’ preparations ahead of November. But their request has also resulted in a litigation hold on 1,324 voting machines in Fulton, nearly 1,000 machines in DeKalb and 307 machines in Cobb.

While Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler said the effect on her county was minimal — she didn’t expect it to have an impact on the November election — her counterparts in both DeKalb and Fulton said it could potentially be huge.

“That’s probably 40 percent of our inventory,” DeKalb Elections Director Maxine Daniels said.

Fulton Director of Elections and Registration Richard Barron was more blunt: “We are lacking enough equipment to conduct our November election,” he said, adding that the county was seeking to get the hold lifted.

If that attempt is unsuccessful, the suit’s plaintiffs “will be responsible for voters having to wait in longer lines to access fewer (voting machines) in each polling location in the municipal and special elections,” Barron said.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said, “that a plaintiff from another state cares little for how her actions impact real life in Georgia.”

Marilyn Marks, a North Carolina resident who as executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance brought the suit with several Georgia voters, said that was not the case at all.

The suit, now in U.S. District Court, is the second pursued in less than two months by her group. While there is no evidence Georgia's more-than-a-decade-old system has been hacked, officials in the state and experts say, Marks' group has seized on flaws that some say could be exploited if it were ever breached.

While she acknowledged she would be thrilled to see the state dump its aging electronic voting system, Marks said her group wanted to reach a compromise that would allow it to essentially use a small sampling of machines and memory cards from the special election while the bulk of those currently on hold would be released for full use in November.

“We’re not trying to keep those machines out of service for purposes of the lawsuit,” Marks said.

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