When Gov. Brian Kemp hired an election company’s lobbyist this month, the move raised alarm bells about one company’s influence on Georgia’s upcoming purchase of a new statewide voting system. Concerns from government accountability advocates only grew days later, when a commission created by Kemp recommended that the state buy the type of voting machines sold by the lobbyist’s company, Election Systems & Software. Several other vendors also offer similar voting machines. Then Kemp proposed spending $150 million on a new statewide voting system, an amount that matches estimates for the cost of the system promoted by ES&S, called ballot-marking devices, which use a combination of touchscreens and ballot printers. The latest moves fueled suspicions that cozy connections between lobbyists, Kemp and other elected officials will lead to ES&S winning a rich contract to sell its computerized voting products to the state government, even though 55 percent of Georgia voters said in a poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month that they prefer a cheaper system where paper ballots are filled in by voters.
After Kemp faced allegations from his opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, that he used his position as Georgia’s secretary of state to run an unfair election for governor last year, he’s now being accused of tilting the procurement of voting machines toward ES&S, which is the state’s current election company.
Election security advocates, including the only cybersecurity expert on Kemp’s voting system commission, want the state government to move to paper ballots bubbled in by hand and counted by optical scanning machines, saying they’re less expensive and more accountable. By comparison, the machines recommended by a majority of the commission require voters to use touchscreens to make their selections and then insert their printed ballots into scanning machines.
Kemp and ES&S say the process to replace Georgia’s 17-year-old electronic voting machines will be transparent and competitive, and that the firm’s relationship with the governor’s staff gives it no edge over the six other election companies that have expressed interest.
“It’s cronyism at its worst to push for a less fiscally responsible option to benefit these companies that aren’t best for local communities,” said Dan Savickas of FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group seeking paper ballots.