Logan Lamb, a cybersecurity sleuth, thought he was conducting an innocuous Google search to pull up information on Georgia’s centralized system for conducting elections. He was taken aback when the query turned up a file with a list of voters and then alarmed when a subsequent simple data pull retrieved the birth dates, drivers’ license numbers and partial Social Security numbers of more than 6 million voters, as well as county election supervisors’ passwords for use on Election Day. He also discovered the server had a software flaw that an attacker could exploit to take control of the machine. The unsecured server that Lamb exposed in August 2016 is part of an election system — the only one in the country that is centrally run and relies upon computerized touch-screen machines for its voters — that is now at the heart of a legal and political battle with national security implications. On one side are activists who have sued the state to switch to paper ballots in the November midterm elections to guard against the potential threat of Russian hacking or other foreign interference. On the other is Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who has declared the electronic system secure and contends that moving to paper ballots with less than two months to Election Day will spawn chaos and could undermine confidence among Georgia’s 6.8 million voters.
Kemp, a Republican endorsed by President Trump — and an outspoken critic of federal election security assistance in 2016 — is running for governor in a competitive, nationally watched race against a Democrat who could become the nation’s first black female governor.
“I was absolutely stunned,” Lamb said of his discovery of the exposed data. And he was angered when six months later, despite warning officials at Kennesaw State University’s Center for Election Systems (CES), which housed the server, the data was still publicly accessible online.
The center last year was moved to Kemp’s office, and state officials insist that they have put a series of stringent controls in place to safeguard the integrity of the vote.
Georgia, the first state in the country to adopt the “direct-recording electronic,” or DRE, touch-screen machine in 2002, is now one of only five states in which electronic voting is entirely paperless. But a federal judge here is poised to rule by Monday whether the state must scrap its current system that utilizes 28,000 DREs and adopt paper ballots and paper audits instead. Her ruling could affect the other four states and send a rare signal from the bench about the urgency of reducing the risk of election interference from foreign adversaries.