Voters raise concerns about new voting system to state board

Voters told Georgia's election board Wednesday they're deeply worried about the security and accuracy of the state's new voting system and they urged the board to enact strong rules that ensure vote counts are correct.

The Secretary of State's office announced it has started creating standards for recounts, audits and security of paper ballots that will be printed out by voting machines, which are scheduled to be used by Georgia voters statewide during the March 24 presidential primary.

The 10 voters who spoke to the State Election Board, which is responsible for making election rules and investigating violations, said they distrust the $107 million voting system that Georgia bought from Denver-based Dominion this month. They doubted that computer-printed ballots will safeguard elections.

“If a voter cannot recall every race and choice, she cannot identify whether the machine printout accurately reflects her intentions, or instead added, dropped or changed one of her choices,” said Rhonda Martin, a Fulton County voter. “No valid audit can be conducted on the basis of unverifiable source documents.”

>> Related: Petition demands deeper testing of new Georgia voting system

>> Related: Judge asked to stop Georgia's new touchscreen-and-paper voting system

But state election officials said paper ballots will be checked during audits to ensure that printed results match computer counts. Audits must begin across Georgia as soon as possible but no later than the November 2020 presidential election, according to state law.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Georgia's voting system will be ready in time for the presidential primary, and audits will guarantee that results are counted correctly. The system will be tested in up to six counties during local elections this November.

“Our goal from day one was to make sure we have the best election system in the country,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “To achieve that, we are learning from the successes of other jurisdictions, such as Michigan and Virginia, and finding rules and processes to fit Georgia’s needs.”

Georgia’s new voting system combines touchscreen machines and ballot printers. Voters will choose their candidates on 21.5-inch touchscreen tablets that are connected to printers that produce a ballot. Then voters will be able to review their ballots before inserting them into scanning machines for tabulation.

Georgia’s existing 17-year-old voting system lacks a paper ballot record, leaving no way to verify results from electronic voting machines.

Aileen Nakamura, a voter from Sandy Springs, said the State Election Board needs to step in before the new voting system goes into service.

“There are no rules to guide the conduct of those elections, and responsibility for that falls on you,” Nakamura told the board. “What is your plan?”

Elections will only be successful if voters believe every vote is counted as they intended, said Cam Ashling, chairwoman for Georgia Advancing Progress, a political action committee representing Asian American voters.

Several voters said they lack confidence in Georgia's new voting machines because they'll create ballots that encode votes in bar codes for counting by scanning machines. The printed text of voters' choices would only be used during recounts and audits.

“You will hear one common thread that creates a significant problem for you here in Georgia,” Ashling told the board. “The ballot summaries produced by ballot marking devices are inherently unauditable.”

State election officials and board members recently formed a group to draft rules over the next few months, which will be published for public comment. The State Election Board will then vote on the rules.