Voting equipment tested in a ‘dress rehearsal’ before Georgia election

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Testing evaluates whether voting machines work correctly

Georgia election officials recently began testing voting equipment, an essential step to help ensure that 34,000 touchscreens and 4,000 ballot scanners will count votes correctly in this fall’s election.

The process, called logic and accuracy testing, is a routine but important safeguard amid heightened concern about election integrity and security.

Testing of voting equipment manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems can detect whether a voting computer fails to display a candidate’s name, prints ballots incorrectly or tabulates voter choices erroneously.

“It’s kind of like a mock election,” Scott Brown, election technician manager in Clayton County, said at the start of testing Wednesday. “We test every position on the ballot and every ballot style to make sure that when we scan them and the results show up, everything matches.”

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Before testing could begin, Clayton election officials picked up a thumb drive from the secretary of state’s office this week that contains every race, candidate and question that will appear on ballots for voters in various state and local districts.

Then they loaded the data onto the county’s central election server, copied information to USB drives, plugged them into voting touchscreens and loaded the election data. Later, sample ballots will be printed from the touchscreens, fed into scanners, tabulated and compared with expected results.

Rigorous testing could prevent the kind of errors that occurred in DeKalb County during May’s primary, when many votes for a County Commission candidate weren’t recorded after election officials reprogrammed voting equipment following another candidate’s withdrawal. A hand recount concluded that Michelle Long Spears won the race after initial results had shown she finished in third place.

“From the voters’ perspective, they should feel highly confident that at the end of the testing that this equipment is accurately capturing voter intent and translating that into the correct tabulation,” said Noah Praetz, former elections director for Cook County, Illinois, and co-founder of the Elections Group, an elections consulting organization. “It’s the dress rehearsal before the big night.”

But logic and accuracy testing has its limits.

Testing depends on elections workers completing the tedious process of verifying every race on every piece of equipment, an effort that will take weeks in large counties.

And testing can’t ensure that election officials will keep voting equipment secure from potential tampering. After the 2020 presidential election, tech experts working for Sidney Powell, an attorney for then-President Donald Trump, copied a trove of confidential election data in Coffee County.

Cybersecurity experts for plaintiffs in an election security lawsuit have said that hacks or malware could change election results if wrongdoers were able to circumvent security precautions and gain access to voting equipment. They’ve warned that hacks could evade detection during testing.

There’s no evidence that Georgia’s voting equipment has ever been manipulated in an election, and the secretary of state’s office has said security procedures would prevent interference.

“There is a time period after the equipment has been locked and sealed and before it goes into production. That’s why strong chain-of-custody practices are important,” Praetz said. “There’s certainly that little window, however remote and heretofore never exploited that anyone knows of. But of course, election officials work under the assumption that bad things could happen.”

Logic and accuracy testing will continue across Georgia for weeks until all equipment has been checked. Then three weeks of early voting starts on Oct. 17, and Election Day is Nov. 8.

About the Author

Editors' Picks