On July 3, state voters and a good-government group filed a lawsuit alleging that Georgia officials ignored warnings that the state’s electoral system was extremely susceptible to hacking. On July 4, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office was alerted about the lawsuit by the press and declined to comment. It received a copy of the suit on July 6. And on July 7, Georgia officials deleted the state’s election data, which would have likely been critical evidence in that lawsuit, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Two things could have happened here. Either it was an incredible act of incompetence on the part of Georgia’s election officials, or it was an attempted cover-up to try to hide from the public a major election security lapse. Lawmakers from both parties are calling for heads to roll.
According to the lawsuit in question, the vulnerabilities included a path via Google to uncover troves of information about the electorate, including passwords into the election systems themselves. Hackers could theoretically have used these holes to breach the system and make changes to voter registries, or even raw votes. Because the state has no paper trail for votes, such an attack would have been incredibly difficult to detect. (The FBI investigated Georgia’s system earlier this year but has not publicly revealed the results of that investigation.) The lawsuit argues that because of the weaknesses in Georgia’s system, the state’s 2016 election and its 2017 special congressional election were potentially compromised.
Officials at Kennesaw State University, which provides logistical support for the state’s voting network, destroyed the server that housed statewide election data. Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, the organization in the suit, says that the plaintiffs expected this data would have demonstrated the system’s enormous vulnerabilities. The FBI may still have made a copy of the data taken during its investigation, but what Kennesaw State’s Center for Election Systems stored was Georgia’s only version.
Kemp—who on July 2 wrote in a USA Today op-ed that allegations that the Georgia voter system was at risk were “fake news”—blamed the CES for its “inexcusable conduct or gross incompetence.” Kennesaw State officials indicate the deletion was routine, but they also would not answer questions about the remarkable timing or state clearly the reason for the deletion. According to the Associated Press, GOP state Rep. Scot Turner called on Georgia’s attorney general to investigate “whether there was criminal intent” in the destruction of the data. U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat, sent the AP a statement saying the server wipe “appears to be a willful and premeditated destruction of evidence.”