Fix coming to Georgia touchscreens to restore missing Senate candidates

Pre-election testing of voting equipment last week in Douglas and Richmond counties found a second column of candidates in Georgia's special election for the U.S. Senate didn’t always appear on touchscreens because of a technical problem. Among the candidates who were listed in that column were Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and Democrats Matt Lieberman, Ed Tarver and Raphael Warnock. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Georgia election officials told a federal judge Monday that they’ll quickly correct a problem with touchscreen voting computers that left off the names of some of the 21 candidates in a special election for the U.S. Senate.

But attorneys suing the state government said they’re alarmed by technical difficulties so close to the time in-person early voting begins on Oct. 12. They want the government to replace the touchscreens with paper ballots filled out by hand.

Software on the state’s 30,000-plus touchscreens will be replaced to prevent an issue where the second column of U.S. Senate candidates sometimes didn’t appear. Those candidates included Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrats Matt Lieberman, Ed Tarver and Raphael Warnock. Another Republican candidate, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, wasn’t affected because his name appeared in the first column.

“The plaintiffs are flagging this as some apocalyptic scenario on social media, and it’s not. This is a very minor issue,” said Bryan Tyson, an attorney for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

The issue, discovered last week during pre-election equipment testing in Douglas and Richmond counties, occurred when the second column of candidates didn’t appear because of a technical problem with how touchscreens communicated with their underlying Android operating system, said Eric Coomer of Dominion Voting Systems. He said the problem only happened rarely, when users made selections in a specific pattern.

David Cross, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said making a critical software change shows that the state’s voting technology is vulnerable to problems.

“This is far bigger than we originally thought,” Cross told U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg. “It’s hard to imagine a more concerning scenario.”

He said the software upgrade is being made without adequate security testing or certification from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. But Coomer said the change is minor and doesn’t require recertification.

Election officials halted testing in the 77 counties where it had begun after they learned about the problem, said Gabriel Sterling, statewide voting system implementation manager.

New software will be distributed to county election offices on USB drives, and then they’ll be responsible for installing it on touchscreens as part of the testing process. A company reviewing the new software, Pro V&V, could give its approval by Tuesday, Sterling said.

The problem with the U.S. Senate race didn’t affect absentee ballots, which are already being returned to election officials.

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