A federal judge ruled Monday that forcing Georgia to scrap its electronic voting machines in favor of paper ballots for the upcoming midterm elections is too risky, though she said she has grave concerns about the machines that experts have said are vulnerable to hacking. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg’s ruling means the state won’t have to use paper ballots for this year’s midterm elections, including a high-profile gubernatorial contest between the state’s top elections official, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, and Democrat Stacey Abrams, a former state House minority leader who’s trying to become the country’s first black, female governor. Voting integrity advocates and Georgia voters sued state and county election officials, arguing the touchscreen voting machines Georgia has used since 2002 are vulnerable to hacking and provide no way to confirm that votes have been recorded correctly because there’s no paper trail.
Georgia has repeatedly ignored warnings from cybersecurity experts and federal officials about the insecurity of electronic voting machines with no paper record, the voting integrity advocates argued. A Sept. 6 report from the National Academy of Sciences report they cited says all elections should be conducted with “human-readable paper ballots” by 2020 with every effort made to use them in this year’s general election.
The case is being watched closely because Georgia is not the only state that uses the machines. Four other states, along with more than 300 counties in eight other states, exclusively use touchscreen voting machines that provide no paper record, according to Verified Voting, a nonprofit group focused on ensuring the accuracy of elections.
Kemp, who rejected federal offers of assistance with election system security in 2016, has conceded that the current machines should be replaced. But he and other election officials argue the machines are still secure and a last-minute change would be costly and cause chaos. Early voting starts Oct. 15 for the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
Kemp earlier this year established a commission to look at changing machines and last month called for proposals to implement a system with voter-verifiable paper records in time for the 2020 presidential election.