Georgia election security showdown over Dominion arrives ahead of 2024

Raffensperger defends voting system against Lt. Gov. Jones.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is defending the security of Georgia's voting system after dueling reports assessing its vulnerabilities. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is defending the security of Georgia's voting system after dueling reports assessing its vulnerabilities. (Natrice Miller/

Under pressure from all sides following allegations of election security flaws, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is trying to defend both Georgia’s Dominion voting machines and his decision not to upgrade them before next year’s presidential election.

His critics, including Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and some Republican state senators, aren’t satisfied. The confrontation comes to a head Thursday, when Jones meets with Raffensperger at the Georgia Capitol to demand “zero security risks” in the 2024 election year.

Their dispute stems from a federal judge’s decision to unseal a report last month by a computer science professor who found “critical vulnerabilities” that, if successfully exploited, could flip votes from one candidate to another.

“Our goal is to ensure our election software has every available upgrade and there are zero security risks to the system heading into a very critical election year,” Jones said. “With cyberattacks on the rise around the country as well as Georgia’s status as a top battleground state, there is no reason we shouldn’t be preparing now to have the most safe and secure elections — period.”

A separate report cited by Raffensperger — and commissioned by Dominion Voting Systems — said the real-world danger of hacking an election is remote because of layers of testing, audits and physical security.

Raffensperger said Georgia’s voting equipment is secure, and new software should be thoroughly tested before a massive statewide rollout that would change the inner workings of a system that weathered the 2020 and 2022 elections. In addition, the software upgrade isn’t yet compatible with the state’s voter check-in tablets called PollPads.

“What we’ve been telling everyone is that we have a verifiable, secure paper ballot system,” Raffensperger said. “The system has been looked at by professionals that didn’t have a dog in the hunt. ... The hardware hasn’t been tampered with.”

‘Locked down’ voting security?

Raffensperger plans a series of security precautions that are different from software upgrades or a more dramatic move away from Georgia’s touchscreen-and-printed ballot voting system.

Those steps include “health checks” to verify that voting software hasn’t been altered, logic and accuracy testing of each piece of equipment, a post-election audit, and a partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to ensure equipment is kept locked up except during an election.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

While some of the strongest objections to Dominion voting equipment come from supporters of Republican Donald Trump, concerns about security include a broader coalition of cybersecurity experts and nonpartisan election integrity activists. (Jones was one of 16 fake Republican Party electors who tried to award Georgia’s electoral votes to Trump in 2020.)

None of the critics hold a favorable view of Raffensperger, a Republican and frequent target of Trump’s criticism after he upheld Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Georgia by about 12,000 votes. Recounts and investigations repeatedly showed Biden won.

Philip Stark, a statistics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who researches election security, said Georgia election officials should do much more, including a switch to paper ballots filled out by hand rather than machines, rigorous tracking of memory cards and ballots, and stronger audits.

“The idea that these things are locked down and there’s no way to infect the machines, that’s just not true,” Stark said.

According to the report on security vulnerabilities by University of Michigan computer science professor Alex Halderman, votes could be altered by someone with physical access to a voting touchscreen, such as a voter in a polling place or a corrupt election official. The report also said that someone who gained access to election management system computers could alter many more votes.

The Dominion-funded report by the MITRE National Election Security Lab, an organization that assessed Halderman’s report, said hacks are “operationally infeasible” and easily defeated by routine election security procedures.

“It would require some sort of superhero access to these voting machines to even try to exploit the vulnerability,” said Don Palmer, a commissioner for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission who was nominated by Trump. “There are measures in place to mitigate the possibility of that to almost nil.”

Threat level debated

Security protections failed after the 2020 election in Coffee County, where local election officials allowed computer technicians hired by an organization run by Sidney Powell, an attorney supporting Trump, to copy Georgia’s election software and distribute it to conspiracy theorists across the country. The incident remains under investigation by the GBI.

Upgrading the Dominion software could help prevent some of the vulnerabilities identified by Halderman, making it more difficult for hackers to craft malware programmed to subvert elections, state Sen. Greg Dolezal, a Republican from Cumming, wrote in an email to the Georgia Senate Republican Caucus.

“We live in a world where each of us receives critical security updates on our various systems, and I don’t think many of us look at those and say, ‘I think I’ll install this in two years,’ ” Dolezal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Even if an audit catches an issue, if we do suffer an attack from one of these known vulnerabilities after running 2018 software in a 2024 election, it will be detrimental to voter confidence.”

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Dominion recently won a $787.5 million settlement in a defamation lawsuit against Fox News, which promoted misinformation about the outcome of the 2020 election.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission certified the newer version of Dominion’s software in March, and other states are planning to use it sooner than Georgia.

Michigan plans to complete the upgrade for Dominion tabulators before the 2024 presidential primary, and several counties in Ohio plan to use it during elections in August.

In Georgia, the secretary of state’s office intends to pilot the software during municipal elections in November before implementing it statewide.

Virginia Forney, an advocate for hand-marked paper ballots, said Raffensperger should act with greater urgency to prevent the possibility of election interference. Forney is a board member of the Coalition for Good Governance, an organization suing Georgia to discontinue its use of ballot-marking devices for all in-person voting.

“This is important. I don’t know why you would kick it down the line,” said Forney, a Fulton County physician who manages a dermatology practice. “The people on the ground level all care about having a great election, but I think it’s very vulnerable.”