Georgia might ramp up election security upgrades after Capitol summit

Raffensperger and Lt. Gov. Jones discuss Dominion upgrades
Lt. Gov. Burt Jones talks with Sen. Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, as SB 140 is discussed in the Senate Chambers during Crossover day at the State Capitol on Monday, March 6, 2023, in Atlanta. SB 140 prohibits medical professionals from giving transgender children certain hormones or surgical treatment that assists them in aligning with their gender identity. Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones talks with Sen. Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, as SB 140 is discussed in the Senate Chambers during Crossover day at the State Capitol on Monday, March 6, 2023, in Atlanta. SB 140 prohibits medical professionals from giving transgender children certain hormones or surgical treatment that assists them in aligning with their gender identity. Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Georgia election officials are considering a faster and more extensive rollout of upgrades to Dominion voting machines following a closed-door election security meeting at the Capitol with Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and Republican state Senate leaders.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also announced a plan Thursday for election equipment testing and audits to help ensure the accuracy of voting equipment ahead of the 2024 presidential campaign.

The steps toward heightened election security come after a federal judge unsealed a report by a computer scientist last month who found “critical vulnerabilities” that could flip votes if hackers gained access to voting computers. Raffensperger has said security precautions already minimize the real-world risk of tampering.

Dominion’s voting system, which relies on touchscreens and printed-out ballots, has come under fire since the 2020 election, especially from Republican supporters of Donald Trump following his narrow loss in Georgia. Multiple investigations and recounts have checked the results.

Election software upgrades that could help mitigate vulnerabilities still wouldn’t be installed in counties that are preparing for local elections this fall, but Raffensperger signaled a willingness to move forward in other counties. Many counties won’t receive upgrades until after the 2024 election.

Jones said he wants Raffensperger to take stronger steps to protect Georgia voters.

“Like many Georgians, I’m frustrated that we’re still having issues with the software used to run Georgia’s elections,” Jones said Friday. “The secretary of state’s office has been aware of these issues since last fall and failed to bring it to the legislature’s attention. Georgia is going to elect a President — along with many other key officials — in 2024 and we must get it right.”

Raffensperger said his focus on pre-election testing of each piece of voting equipment, further testing during the election and post-election audits will ensure election integrity.

“These layers of prevention and detection mitigate against every potential vulnerability to free, fair, high turnout and secure elections,” Raffensperger’s office said in a statement Thursday. “People who have long been critics of Georgia’s election system who are now making irresponsible calls to install new software ... would probably also criticize Secretary Raffensperger for installing software without thorough testing.”

Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

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Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, a Republican from Dahlonega who attended the meeting with Raffensperger, said it was “very productive.”

“We want to make sure there’s a plan in place to keep the machines up to date, just like you and I keep our computers and software up to date,” Gooch said. “We want to make sure next year’s election goes smoothly, fairly and encourages voter participation throughout the state.”

The senators also requested a conversation with a representative for Dominion Voting Systems to discuss ongoing improvements to Georgia’s election equipment purchased for $107 million in 2019.

“It was a positive and collaborative meeting, and hopefully we’ll be able to continue positive conversations related to cybersecurity,” said state Sen. Jason Anavitarte, a Republican from Dallas who attended the Thursday meeting with Raffensperger.

State election officials have said new voting software should be thoroughly tested before a large rollout that would change the inner workings of a system that weathered the 2020 and 2022 elections. They’re also trying to find ways to make the upgrade compatible with the state’s voter check-in tablets called PollPads.

“The possibility of expanding the pilot program to include some additional counties this fall has been under consideration by this office for some time, and we were encouraged by the senators’ positive reaction and support for the idea,” said Mike Hassinger, a spokesman for Raffensperger.

While state senators said the meeting was productive, Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs issued a reminder that Jones was among the legislators who invited Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s disgraced lawyer, to state Capitol hearings in 2020.

“These are the people who gave Rudy Giuliani multiple hearings to make claims so bizarrely inaccurate that he won’t even defend them in court,” said Fuchs. “They refuse to comment on that as they attack the guy who told you the truth and was proven right by time and endless investigations.”

Gooch acknowledged that it’s likely “impossible” to upgrade all of Georgia’s voting machines with so many elections scheduled — from city council races this fall to the presidential primary March 12 — he said senators want to ensure Raffensperger is doing everything he can to ensure a safe 2024 election year.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.