Georgia election board evaluates Coffee County breach and precautions

Dominion CEO and election officials say upcoming elections are safe

Georgia officials and the CEO of Dominion Voting Systems tried to reassure voters Wednesday that this year’s elections are secure amid a criminal investigation into election skeptics who coordinated copying of data from voting equipment in Coffee County.

State Election Board Chairman William Duffey said the breach in Coffee County fits into a pattern of similar incidents in Michigan and Nevada, and he said the board has asked the FBI to participate in an ongoing investigation by the GBI and secretary of state’s office.

“What happened in Coffee County was despicable — the idea that people that we entrust with this precious voting role would allow people that were not allowed to be in there,” Duffey said. “The consequence for that kind of conduct should be significant.”

The State Election Board called its meeting at the state Capitol on Wednesday to address the Coffee County breach and discuss protections for upcoming elections, including testing procedures and audit plans.

Recently released surveillance video showed that computer analysts hired by Sidney Powell, an attorney for then-President Donald Trump, visited Coffee County’s elections office to copy a trove of software and data on Jan. 7, 2021. Some election security experts say the disclosure of confidential election data increases the risk of hacks in future elections.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

But several conservative voters told the board they still distrust Georgia’s voting system after Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Recounts and investigations have repeatedly debunked conspiracy theories alleging counterfeit ballots, ballot stuffing and dead voters in the 2020 election.

“I do have a lack of confidence in the Dominion machines,” said Jo Ellen Shiver, a DeKalb County voter who cited counting errors in a May County Commission race that were corrected during a recount. ”I find this very troubling. How many more errors were there like this in how many more races?”

Dominion CEO John Poulos said paper ballots, locks, seals, encrypted memory cards and passwords help ensure the election accuracy of the voting system, which uses touchscreens to print paper ballots.

“Once these devices are loaded, there is a host of public testing that occurs on them to ensure that nothing nefarious has happened,” Poulos said via a video call to the State Election Board meeting. “Ultimately, the paper that is printed allows them to review that their selections are accurate.”

Critics of Georgia’s voting system say that if someone gained access to voting equipment — as they did in Coffee County — they could attempt to exploit vulnerabilities or install malware that could change votes. So far, there’s no evidence of that kind of voting machine tampering during an election in Georgia.

To help ensure the accuracy of this fall’s results, an audit will be conducted of one statewide race before the election is certified, Georgia Elections Director Blake Evans said.

The audit will check the printed text on a random sample of ballots in every county to help verify that the machine count was correct. It will be the first statewide audit since Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger ordered a full hand count of all 5 million ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election.

To further counter fears about election tampering, the State Election Board voted unanimously to ask a federal judge to release a sealed report from MITRE, an organization that analyzes election equipment and evaluated the risk of vulnerabilities reported in June by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.