Paulding County Elections Supervisor Deidre Holden operates a voting machine Monday. Paulding tested Georgia’s new voting machines during local elections. Paulding is one of six counties to try the new machines that will be in all polling stations in the state for the first presidential primary election March 24. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Rebecca Wright
Photo: Rebecca Wright

Voters critique Georgia’s new voting machines as test run begins

Election officials rolled out the new voting system in six counties for local elections as in-person early voting began Monday. The $107 million system, which combines touchscreens and computer-printed paper ballots, will be used by all voters statewide on March 24 for the presidential primary.

A few minor problems surfaced when polls opened in Paulding, located about 35 miles west of Atlanta.

Election workers initially couldn’t program voter access cards, which tell voting machines what ballot to display, because the cards were inserted backward into encoding devices. A printer was plugged into the wrong slot. And one voter had to cancel her ballot and revote because she didn’t realize she needed to scroll to the bottom of the screen on the voting machine to see the entire ballot.

All of Georgia’s electronic voting machines are being replaced before the March 24 presidential primary. The new voting system uses touchscreens, printed-out paper ballots and ballot scanners. Step 1 Voters check in at their precincts with an iPad that scans their driver’s license or another form of photo ID. Then voters can use their finger to sign-in on the screen. Step 2 A 21.5-inch touchscreen displays candidates and referendums. Voters make their choices on the touchscreen, called a ballot marking device, which, includes accessibility options such as enlarged text and headphones. Step 3 Next to the touchscreen, an HP printer produces a paper ballot. The ballot includes a text listing of voters’ choices along with a bar code that can be read by an optical scanning machine. Voters can review their choices and request a new ballot if needed. Step 4 The ballot is inserted into the scanner for vote tabulation. Ballots are accepted whether they’re face-up or face-down, forward or backward. The scanning machine displays a message saying “ballot successfully cast,” and the ballot is stored in a locked box that can later be opened for recounts or audits. Mark Niesse Georgia Government Reporter The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 404-526-2848 Twitter: @markniesse

The first Paulding voter, Martha Morris, said she found it easy to cast her ballot on the new machines by Dominion Voting Systems. She said the paper ballot gave her confidence that her choices were recorded correctly.

“Sometimes you think you hit the right button, but you don’t know for sure,” said Morris, a receptionist at the county government building that serves as the early voting location. “Now you have an opportunity to go back and review it.”

Another voter, Ronald McClung, said voting will be more difficult on the new machines. An election worker sat with McClung, 86, and talked through instructions about how to vote on the machines.

“It’s going to be a slow thing,” McClung said. “You have to take the paper out, look at it, walk it across the room and put it in. There’s a lot of wasted paper.”

Georgia is replacing its 17-year-old digital voting system, which didn’t include a paper ballot.

As they did with the old system, voters will make their choices on touchscreens. But with the new system, each touchscreen is attached to a printer that produces a paper ballot. Voters can then review their selections before inserting their ballots into a scanning machines.

New polling machines wait to be used at the Paulding County Municipal Building on Monday in Dallas. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Paulding Elections Supervisor ​Deidre Holden said she was excited to be one of the first counties to try out the new voting technology. The other test counties are Bartow, Carroll, Catoosa, Decatur and Lowndes.

“We love it. It’s user-friendly and verifiable,” said Holden, who plans to use the paper ballots to audit electronic results after the election is over. “Everything is going the way it’s supposed to.”

Critics of electronic voting say the new system fails to safeguard elections.

Liz Throop, an Atlanta resident who observed voting in Paulding on Monday, said she’s worried about election security and accuracy under the new system.

“I have grave concerns that people will not check their ballots, and even if they do, there’s no way to detect systematic vote flopping,” said Throop, who watched the election for the Coalition for Good Governance, a group suing in federal court to seek hand-marked paper ballots. “Most people don’t check their printed ballots. Every 10th vote could be flipped, and it would be extremely unlikely that a pattern would be detected.”

Most voters said the new voting system was self-explanatory, and they didn’t see a significant difference from Georgia’s old machines.

“To me, it was simple,” said Paula Dobbs, who voted on a county sales tax for education. “I like the fact that it printed out and verified how you voted.”

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