Georgia Lt. Gov. Jones accused of seeking election server access in 2020

‘That would be a huge security breach,’ state election official wrote
As a state senator in December 2020, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones asked election officials in Butts County whether he could bring a “forensic analyst” to inspect the county’s elections management server, according to an email shown during an election security trial. The general counsel for the secretary of state's office at that time responded that it would be illegal to allow an unauthorized person to have access to an election server. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

As a state senator in December 2020, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones asked election officials in Butts County whether he could bring a “forensic analyst” to inspect the county’s elections management server, according to an email shown during an election security trial. The general counsel for the secretary of state's office at that time responded that it would be illegal to allow an unauthorized person to have access to an election server. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones allegedly sought access to election computers in Butts County after the 2020 election, an effort that, if successful, would have been illegal, according to emails among state election officials that were shown in court Thursday.

There’s no indication that Georgia election equipment was compromised in Butts County, but a breach in Coffee County resulted in criminal charges against four people. Two of them have pleaded guilty, including Sidney Powell, an attorney who supported Donald Trump’s efforts to reverse the 2020 election results.

Jones, a state senator representing Butts County at the time, was one of 16 Republicans who attempted to award Georgia’s electoral votes to Trump after he lost to Democrat Joe Biden by about 12,000 votes.

Jones asked election officials in Butts County whether he could bring a “forensic analyst” to inspect the county’s elections management server in December 2020, according to an email from Michael Barnes, the director of the Georgia Center for Election Systems.

“This would be against the law,” responded Ryan Germany, general counsel for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger at the time. “They are not allowed to give an unauthorized person access to their EMS server. That would be a huge security breach.”

Emails among Georgia election officials indicate that Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who was a state senator at the time, sought an inspection of election computers in Butts County in December 2020. The emails were shown in this presentation by plaintiffs during closing arguments of an election security trial Thursday, Feb. 2, 2024.

Credit: Contributed

icon to expand image

Credit: Contributed

No fraud or vote-flipping has been found on Dominion voting machines in the 2020 election in Georgia, and three vote counts confirmed the results.

Jones has always been concerned about protecting election security, spokesman Chris Hartline said.

“During the 2020 election, there were numerous complaints from his constituents in Butts County about irregularities in the voting process. His job as a state senator was to ask questions and try to resolve those issues, and that’s what he did,” Hartline said.

Butts County Elections Director Brook Schreiner, who started her job in August 2021, said there weren’t any vote-counting discrepancies in her county in 2020, and she wasn’t aware of any attempts to inspect election computers.

“The secretary of state’s office just did a health check on the machines, and we passed. I know that there were no issues in 2020,” Schreiner said. “They have not been compromised, and they are secure.”

Ahead of this year’s presidential election, state election officials have been testing touchscreens, ballot scanners and election management servers to ensure they’re operating correctly and haven’t been tampered with.

Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said Jones shouldn’t have supported efforts to gain access to election computers.

“It’s obviously inappropriate and not the sign of mature leadership,” Fuchs said. “We applaud the Butts County election officials who did the right thing working with our office to protect the voting equipment from unauthorized access.”

Plaintiffs in the election security trial, which concluded Thursday, alleged that the secretary of state’s safeguards are inadequate to prevent the possibility of tampering or errors. They asked the judge to bar use of Georgia’s Dominion voting machines and instead require voters to fill out ballots by hand.

“While they tell you in court, ‘Coffee County is not a big deal,’ ... they acknowledged that it would be a huge security breach” in Butts County, David Cross, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said during closing arguments Thursday. “We have not heard of anything the state has done since.”

Butts County, located 50 miles south of Atlanta, is the latest election office where Trump supporters sought to inspect voting equipment as Trump was attempting to overturn results of the presidential contest in Georgia. Trump won 71% of the vote in Butts County.

In Coffee County, tech experts hired by Powell’s organization copied the state’s election software, ballots and a trove of other data in January 2021. Those files were then distributed to Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists across the country. State law limits access to election computers, which are supposed to be kept secure by election officials.

In Spalding County, election officials considered hiring the same tech firm that worked in Coffee County, SullivanStrickler, before the secretary of state’s office told the county that doing so wasn’t allowed, according to trial testimony. SullivanStrickler has denied wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged with a crime.

Credit: Coffee County

icon to expand image

Credit: Coffee County

Prosecutors in Fulton County have said Jones was involved in a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, but he wasn’t one of the 19 people — including Trump — who were indicted by a grand jury in August.

A judge ruled last year that Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis had a conflict of interest and couldn’t investigate Jones because she had hosted a fundraiser for his Democratic opponent in the lieutenant governor’s race. A special prosecutor hasn’t yet been appointed to consider allegations against Jones.

About the Author