A woman casts her vote during Saturday early voting at the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (REANN HUBER/REANN.HUBER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Reann Huber
Photo: Reann Huber

Voters tell judge that switching Georgia to paper ballots is necessary

Switching to paper ballots before November’s election is the only way to ensure voting is secure and accurate, say plaintiffs trying to convince a federal judge to discard the Georgia’s electronic voting machines.

The court filing was made Monday in a lawsuit from voting integrity advocates who sued to prevent the state from using its 27,000 touchscreen machines, which they say could be hacked without a trace.

Attorneys for some of the plaintiffs wrote that it was “utterly ridiculous” for the state government to suggest changing to paper ballots would cause chaos.

“The only change that a voter will notice as a result of this change is that, rather than touching an electronic screen, the voter will use a felt-tip pen to record his or her vote on a paper ballot and will place the paper ballot in a secure ballot box,” according to attorneys for the Coalition for Good Governance, an organization seeking transparent and verifiable elections.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s attorneys had warned earlier this month that imposing paper ballots less than three months before the Nov. 6 general election could cost more than $13.4 million and lead to voter confusion, increased wait times and suppressed turnout. Kemp is a Republican running for Georgia governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams.

But state law allows paper ballots if electronic voting machines are compromised, wrote attorneys for a group of plaintiffs. And paper ballots are already used by voters who submit absentee ballots by mail.

“The mere fact that the ‘election machinery is already in gear’ is no justification to tread on voters’ rights by forcing them to use system that is admittedly unreliable,” according to their court filing. “Defendants’ only reason for not securing Georgia’s elections is that it is not the way things have been done.”

The plaintiffs also questioned the government’s estimate of the cost of switching to paper ballots because it didn’t account for savings from eliminating direct-recording electronic (DRE) machines. They said the state could use $10.3 million in federal grant money for the switch to paper.

The court filings came in response to a request from U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg for the parties to address the feasibility of changing Georgia’s voting system less than three months before the election.

Totenberg is considering whether to issue an injunction that would require Georgia’s 6.7 million registered voters to use paper ballots on Election Day.

There’s no evidence that hackers have penetrated Georgia’s voting machines or changed results, but election integrity advocates say a verifiable paper backup is needed to ensure electronic machines are producing accurate results.

commission formed by Kemp is evaluating options for a replacement voting system that would be in place in time for the 2020 presidential primary. Kemp has said Georgia’s 16-year-old voting system is safe but needs to be updated.

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