Eleven years ago, after Karen Handel had been elected as Georgia’s first Republican secretary of state since Reconstruction, Richard DeMillo, head of the Office of Policy Analysis and Research at Georgia Tech, got a call about an important project. The state’s election system, updated with new machines, needed a hard look. “They said: Take a look at our processes, take a look at our technology, and give us your opinion,” DeMillo said. “I assigned some people from our Information Security Center to work on it.” In May 2008, the Georgia Tech Information Security Center and Office of Policy Analysis and Research released its report, “A Security Study of the Processes and Procedures Surrounding Electronic Voting in Georgia.” A number of potential problems came up, from the transportation of election machines by prison laborers to password protection of machines and poll-watcher training.
“A malicious party with minimal knowledge of the voting machines could gain the confidence of the poll workers and thus access to the voting units,” the authors wrote. And the state’s Center for Election Systems, at Kennesaw State University, also was at risk. “The election center at Kennesaw State University fills a key role in Georgia’s statewide election procedures, which makes it a potential target of a systemic attack.”
In 2017, the threat became real; there was a data breach at Kennesaw State. While the Georgia secretary of state’s office said that key equipment was not touched, a lawsuit was filed in which worried parties demanded paper ballots in the June 20 special election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. The plaintiffs lost, but concerns about the state’s 15-year old election system have bubbled up as Democrat Jon Ossoff campaigns against his Republican opponent — Karen Handel.