2/28/19 - Atlanta - Majority Leader Jon Burns (from left), R - Newington, Minority Leader Robert Trammell, D - Luthersville, Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R - Auburn, and House Speaker David Ralston confer before the House took a recess before taking up the state budget. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Why 3 Georgia lawmakers didn’t toe the party line on voting machines

When it came time to decide on new Georgia voting machines this week, almost every state representative stuck with their political parties.

Republicans supported a voting system that prints out paper ballots, while Democrats opposed the bill because they want paper ballots that voters could bubble in by pen.

But three lawmakers broke with their parties during Tuesday’s 101-72 vote in the state House. The legislation calls for the state to replace its 17-year-old electronic voting machines with a system that includes a paper ballot.

Democratic state Rep. Valencia Stovall said she voted for the legislation because she believes the touchscreen voting system would help both tech-savvy millennials and seniors who might have a hard time reading and bubbling in ballots.

2/28/19 - Atlanta - Rep. Valencia Stovall, D - Forest Park, speaks during morning orders on Thursday. The legislature was in session for the 24rd day of the 2019 General Assembly. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

“I don’t think we should be going back to paper ballots,” said Stovall, who represents Forest Park. “The millennials, they said they’re not going to stand in line and then bubble in their answers. That’s going to deter a lot of people from voting.”

She also supports provisions in House Bill 316 that curtail precinct closures, voter registration cancellations and absentee ballot rejections.

On the other side of the aisle, Republican state Rep. Scot Turner voted against the bill because its touchscreen-and-printer voting system would cost taxpayers about $150 million, and he said hand-marked ballots would be less expensive. Estimates put the up-front cost of hand-marked paper ballots at $30 million to $60 million.

“It was a data-driven decision that we would be wasting $150 million,” said Turner, who represents Holly Springs, about his vote.

He said modern vote-counting machines can catch human errors to ensure paper ballots are counted accurately.

February 26, 2018 - Atlanta, Ga: Rep. Scot Turner, R - Holly Springs, leads the discussion about House Bill 866, relating to identity theft, in the House Chambers during Legislative day 27 at the Georgia State Capitol Monday, February 26, 2018, in Atlanta. PHOTO / JASON GETZ
Photo: Jason Getz

“The scanners that actually would count the ballots are able to compensate for stray marks or double votes or circles or check marks,” Turner said. “Criticisms of hand-marked paper ballots were tainted by an antiquated view of what the old-style Scantrons would allow.”

State Rep. Carl Gilliard, a Democrat from Garden City, was the third state representative who voted differently from his party. Gilliard, who voted for HB316, didn’t return email and phone messages seeking comment.

The legislation is now pending in the state Senate.

How it works

Ballot-marking devices are a voting system that combines technology and paper ballots. Voters tap a touchscreen to make their selections, similar to the state’s current voting voting machines. The touchscreen is attached to a printer that spits out a paper ballot. Then voters could review their choices on the paper ballot before inserting it into an optical scanning machine for tabulation.

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