Judge is asked to release report on alleged Georgia voting vulnerability

January 5, 2021 Atlanta: A poll worker waits for the polls to open on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 at the Park Tavern located at 500 10th St NE in Atlanta. Georgia’s long moment in the national spotlight culminated Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, when state voters cast their votes to determine which party would control the U.S. Senate. Georgia voters also voted to elect a member of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates energy and utility rates and issues. The two most expensive Senate races in history saw more than $833 million been spent by the four campaigns and outside groups supporting them, blanketing the airwaves and stuffing mailboxes across the state. Much of that money has come from organizations with no direct connection to Georgia. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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January 5, 2021 Atlanta: A poll worker waits for the polls to open on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 at the Park Tavern located at 500 10th St NE in Atlanta. Georgia’s long moment in the national spotlight culminated Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, when state voters cast their votes to determine which party would control the U.S. Senate. Georgia voters also voted to elect a member of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates energy and utility rates and issues. The two most expensive Senate races in history saw more than $833 million been spent by the four campaigns and outside groups supporting them, blanketing the airwaves and stuffing mailboxes across the state. Much of that money has come from organizations with no direct connection to Georgia. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Election officials say equipment is secure from potential hacking

Both Georgia election officials and critics of the state’s voting touchscreens asked a federal judge Thursday to release a confidential report that describes how a hacker could attempt to change votes.

The calls for disclosure come a day after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article on the findings of University of Michigan computer science professor Alex Halderman, who detailed vulnerabilities of Georgia’s voting equipment in a sealed court document.

There’s no sign of tampering with the state’s Dominion Voting Systems equipment in the 2020 election, according to audits and experts, but Halderman’s report outlined risks for upcoming elections this year. Halderman is an expert for plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to replace Georgia’s voting system that prints out paper ballots, instead using paper ballots filled out by hand.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg said in a court teleconference Thursday that she will review a version of Halderman’s report that redacts sensitive information and decide whether to make it public by Monday.

Totenberg said she was displeased that the report, which has been discussed in public court hearings but remains under seal, became a “political football.”

“I’m unhappy with the political treatment of the report,” Totenberg said. “... The entire purpose of having hearings was to maximize transparency but at the same time trying to be mindful of the risks involved of disclosure.”

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U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg listens Wednesday as Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer science professor, demonstrates how an electronic voting machine like those used in Georgia could be hacked. Totenberg is overseeing a lawsuit that asks her to invalidate Georgia’s 27,000 touchscreen voting machines and replace them with paper ballots in time for the general election Nov. 6, 2018. RICHARD MILLER / CONTRIBUTED

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg listens Wednesday as Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer science professor, demonstrates how an electronic voting machine like those used in Georgia could be hacked. Totenberg is overseeing a lawsuit that asks her to invalidate Georgia’s 27,000 touchscreen voting machines and replace them with paper ballots in time for the general election Nov. 6, 2018. RICHARD MILLER / CONTRIBUTED

caption arrowCaption
U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg listens Wednesday as Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer science professor, demonstrates how an electronic voting machine like those used in Georgia could be hacked. Totenberg is overseeing a lawsuit that asks her to invalidate Georgia’s 27,000 touchscreen voting machines and replace them with paper ballots in time for the general election Nov. 6, 2018. RICHARD MILLER / CONTRIBUTED

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called for the report to be released and said Georgia’s voting system is secure.

“The public deserves to know the context of J. Alex Halderman’s claims and his testimony regarding the 2020 election,” Raffensperger said in a statement Wednesday. “We are taking on these claims in court, and we will win.”

The AJC reported on Halderman’s report after the Louisiana secretary of state and Fox News filed court documents seeking its release. In addition, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency wrote in a court filing last week that vulnerabilities could be disclosed and mitigated.

Halderman, who gained access to Georgia voting equipment as an expert in the lawsuit, found that malicious software could be installed on voting touchscreens to change votes from one candidate to another. Halderman alleged that votes could be altered within QR codes that are printed on paper ballots, which are unreadable by the human eye but used by scanning machines to record votes.

The vulnerability could be exploited by someone with physical access to a voting touchscreen, such as a voter in a polling place, or by an attacker who used election management system computers, according to public court filings. A hacker in a polling place could only target one touchscreen at a time, limiting the number of votes that could be changed, but an attack on election management systems could have a broader impact.

Raffensperger had previously declined to address a confidential report that he hadn’t seen, and his office didn’t answer questions about whether it has improved election security to prevent tampering.

He has said that audits, recounts and security precautions would prevent and detect attempts to hack voting equipment.

In response to the AJC’s reporting, Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday called on Raffensperger to review the report and do everything possible to safeguard voting equipment.

“Now that Gov. Kemp publicly called him out for failing to comply with his duties to address those vulnerabilities and ignoring the report since last summer, he’s desperate to point the finger at others,” said David Cross, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “But he made the decision many months ago not to address the report, and he’s accountable to voters for that deliberate dereliction.”

Totenberg said in court that attorneys for Raffensperger previously didn’t want to acknowledge the report when the plaintiffs asked her if they could share it with election officials and Dominion.

Now, she will decide whether the public will be able to learn more about the potential risk to elections.

“I don’t want to have somebody saying, ‘We would have released the full report but for Judge Totenberg,’ ” she said.

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