A group of technology experts said Tuesday that Georgia’s top elections officials should stop using electronic voting machines as the FBI reviews a suspected data breach. Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Kennesaw State University this month confirmed a federal investigation focused on the school’s Center for Election Systems. The center tests and certifies Georgia’s voting machines and electronic polling books used to check in voters at polling locations. Employees also format ballots for every election held in the state. The center isn’t part of Kemp’s office or connected to its networks, including Georgia’s database of registered voters maintained by the secretary of state’s office. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported the investigation into the suspected cyberattack. In a letter to Kemp on Tuesday, 20 technology experts and computer science professors affiliated with the national Verified Voting organization said paper ballots will preserve voters’ confidence in the results of an upcoming special election to fill Georgia’s 6th District congressional seat. The letter said using equipment maintained by the center while it is the focus of a criminal investigation “can raise deep concerns.”
The vacant seat was formerly held by Republican Tom Price, who now serves as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Georgia law requires a so-called “jungle primary” in special congressional elections, and more than a dozen candidates will compete on the same ballot in the April 18 election. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, go to a June 20 runoff.
Verified Voting, which closely tracks voting systems used throughout the U.S., and other advocacy groups have long expressed concern with Georgia’s reliance on voting machines. Barbara Simons, chairwoman of the nonpartisan organization’s board, said paper ballots allow voters to ensure their choices are correct and create a trail if there are any questions about the results. It also lets officials do a hand count of the physical ballots, she said.