Election equipment to be replaced in Coffee County after outsiders gain access

Confidential Georgia voting data copied after 2020 election

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Friday that he will replace voting equipment in Coffee County after supporters of then-President Donald Trump and their computer analysts copied confidential data following the 2020 election.

The decision comes after tech experts hired by Trump attorney Sidney Powell visited restricted areas of the county’s elections office to copy information from an election server, voter check-in tablets, ballot scanners and other voting equipment on Jan. 7, 2021.

Replacing the equipment could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Raffensperger said it’s necessary to avoid “distraction and misinformation” before this year’s elections.

Election security experts who oppose Georgia’s voting system say the copying of election software increased the risk of hacks or malware that could attempt to manipulate election results, though there’s no evidence that has happened in an election so far.

”To allay the fears being stoked by perennial election deniers and conspiracy theorists, we’re replacing Coffee County’s election machines,” said Raffensperger, a Republican. “Replacing the equipment puts an end to any argument that the results in Coffee County, and anywhere else in Georgia for that matter, will not accurately reflect the will of Georgia voters.”

Video recently revealed through an election security lawsuit showed the computer analysts were escorted into the rural South Georgia county’s elections office by Cathy Latham, a fake elector who tried to award the state’s presidential votes to Trump.

They were also accompanied by the county’s elections supervisor and a bail bondsman who was skeptical of the results. An attorney for the analysts has said they were preserving election data for Powell.

The 2020 election results have been upheld by recounts, court cases and investigations. Democrat Joe Biden defeated Trump, a Republican, in Georgia by about 12,000 votes.

Marilyn Marks, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said replacing some of the voting equipment is “completely and totally inadequate.”

Though the secretary of state’s office previously installed a new server and scanner in June 2021, Marks said malware could have spread since then if other equipment were infected. She also said the software for the state’s Dominion Voting Systems machines has been distributed to election conspiracists who could use it to craft hacks that could contaminate machines anywhere in the state.

“The software for the entire state is out there in the wild, and replacing the equipment from which it was stolen does nothing,” said Marks, executive director for the Coalition for Good Governance, an election security organization. “It’s insulting and doesn’t deal with the extreme risk.”

Marks said Georgia should switch to paper ballots filled out by hand to reduce the danger of election manipulation through voting machines.

But Raffensperger has said Georgia’s election system is secure because election workers, seals on voting machines and chain-of-custody procedures prevent outsiders from gaining access to equipment. Even if they did breach equipment — as they did in Coffee County — election officials have said it would be difficult to contaminate more than one machine at a time.

The cost of the replacement equipment will initially be borne by the taxpayer-funded secretary of state’s office, though it’s possible the state could attempt to recover costs from Coffee County because its elections supervisor at the time, Misty Hampton, allowed unauthorized access to her office.

The equipment — 100 touchscreens and printers, 21 check-in tablets and 10 scanners — would cost about $400,000 if it were bought new. Some of the equipment might be returnable or obtained at a discount.

Coffee County’s current elections supervisor, Rachel Roberts, said she’s preparing for this fall’s elections on the equipment that’s provided by the state.

“I just follow their guidelines and do whatever they say we need to do,” Roberts said. “It’s going to be run fair underneath the guidelines of the state.”

The GBI and the secretary of state’s office are investigating the incident in Coffee County.

Besides the team that operated with Powell, other election analysts also visited the county’s elections office in January 2021, including Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, who later conducted a ballot review in Maricopa County, Arizona; and Jeffrey Lenberg, a skeptic of election results who is under investigation in connection with intrusions of voting equipment in Michigan.