A federal judge ruled Monday that Georgia can continue using electronic voting machines in November’s election despite concerns they could be hacked. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg denied a request for an injunction that would have forced the state’s 6.8 million voters to switch to hand-marked paper ballots. Totenberg made her decision in an ongoing lawsuit from voters and election integrity organizations who say Georgia’s direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines are untrustworthy and insecure. Georgia is one of five states that relies entirely on electronic voting machines without a verifiable paper backup. Her 46-page order Monday said she was concerned about “voter frustration and disaffection from the voting process” if she had prohibited electronic voting machines just weeks before the election. “There is nothing like bureaucratic confusion and long lines to sour a citizen,” Totenberg wrote.
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.
WJBF Atlanta Bureau Chief Ashley Bridges was in oral arguments as attorneys for Secretary Brian Kemp and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office fought back against a suit to immediately move to paper ballots due to the insecurity of Georgia’s election system. Federal Court proceedings do not allow recording devices, but here’s a rough log of Bridges’ “Reporter’s Notebook.” Areas that may be of particular interest, or that grew particularly heated. Attorneys referenced below for the Plaintiff’s filing the case are Cross, Macguire and Brown. \Attorneys for Kemp and the Secretary of State are former Governor Roy Barnes and his son-in-law John Salter. (A political twist that surprised many when Democrat Barnes took the case, instead of Georgia’s own attorney general) Totenberg is the judge.
Plaintiffs: Present a just-released National Academy of Sciences report claiming, “Every effort should be made to use human-readable paper ballots in the 2018 election.”
Salter for Secretary of State: Claimed Kemp believes that the election can be “safely and accurately” conducted and Plaintiffs want judge to “rule to make this elephant have wings and fly”
Totenberg: “The reality is times change and we’re in a rapidly changing time”
Logan Lamb, a cybersecurity sleuth, thought he was conducting an innocuous Google search to pull up information on Georgia’s centralized system for conducting elections. He was taken aback when the query turned up a file with a list of voters and then alarmed when a subsequent simple data pull retrieved the birth dates, drivers’ license numbers and partial Social Security numbers of more than 6 million voters, as well as county election supervisors’ passwords for use on Election Day. He also discovered the server had a software flaw that an attacker could exploit to take control of the machine. The unsecured server that Lamb exposed in August 2016 is part of an election system — the only one in the country that is centrally run and relies upon computerized touch-screen machines for its voters — that is now at the heart of a legal and political battle with national security implications. On one side are activists who have sued the state to switch to paper ballots in the November midterm elections to guard against the potential threat of Russian hacking or other foreign interference. On the other is Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who has declared the electronic system secure and contends that moving to paper ballots with less than two months to Election Day will spawn chaos and could undermine confidence among Georgia’s 6.8 million voters.
Georgia voters may find out by month’s end whether they’ll be going back to paper ballots in a November election with one of the nation’s most closely watched gubernatorial races. A good-government group claims in a lawsuit that the state’s electronic-voting system is at such risk of Russian-style interference that the Republican-led state is violating residents’ constitutional rights by failing to fix the problem. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 12 in Atlanta and said she’ll issue an opinion within two weeks on the group’s request for a paper ballot. Georgia’s election databases and 27,000 touchscreen voting machines could be hacked to erase valid registrations, add fake voters and even switch votes to decide which candidate wins, the group said in the lawsuit. And the state is an inviting target, they say, because its machines are easy to hack and the state has a large number of registered voters — about 7 million.
A federal judge could rule Wednesday on a far-reaching request to switch Georgia from electronic to paper ballots just eight weeks before November’s election. Changing the state’s voting system on short notice would be a dramatic change, but concerned voters and election integrity groups say it would eliminate the possibility the state’s touchscreen machines, which lack a verifiable paper backup, could be hacked. They’ll be in court Wednesday to ask U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg for an injunction prohibiting election officials from using the state’s 27,000 direct-recording electronic voting units, or DREs. Instead, voters would use pens to fill in paper ballots by hand. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the defendant in the case, strongly opposes a quick move away from the voting system in place since 2002. He said electronic voting machines are secure and that a rushed transition to paper would result in a less trustworthy election system. But Donna Curling, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said Georgia’s electronic voting machines are inherently unsafe. If voting machines were penetrated by hackers, malicious code could rig elections, she said.
A federal judge will not dismiss a lawsuit filed against Georgia’s Secretary of State which would require Georgia to move to paper ballots ahead of November’s election. The suit was filed due to concerns over the insecurity of Georgia’s voting systems. This means the case will move forward and both sides will present their arguments in front of a judge on September 17. Pleadings by Secretary Kemp’s legal team refer to the experts saying Georgia needs paper ballots as “so-called experts” who are only Ph.D. candidates, hackers, or low-level functionaries. They also use the term “Luddite.” WSAV’s Atlanta Capitol Correspondent, Ashley Bridges, spoke to a world-renowned cyber security expert who says our system is one of the worst in the country. “I don’t think of myself as a Luddite,” says Dr. Richard DeMillo. In reality, Dr. Richard DeMillo holds nearly 50 years of expertise in computer science and cyber security, with a PhD from Georgia Tech, even serving as the university’s Dean of Computing. He says it’s because he does understand the technology that he thinks Georgia has to throw it out. “I have an appreciation for the complexity it takes. Like most people that look at it objectively, it’s about the worst in the country.”
When it comes to election interference in the 2018 midterms, critics say Georgia is ripe for the picking. The state uses dubious electronic voting machines that offer no paper backup so as to detect foul play, and have been shown to be easily penetrated. “These are old school voting systems. I call them old school because they are one of the few systems in the country that still don’t have a paper trail on them,” freelance journalist Kim Zetter told Grant Burningham, host of Yahoo News’ “Bots & Ballots” podcast. “So these are what are called direct recording electronic [DRE] machines. They’re touch screen machines. They were made initially by Diebold, and Diebold, if you’ll recall, had a lot of bad publicity back in 2004, 2005, when the source code for their touchscreen machines was exposed online, and researchers looked at it and found a lot of problems.”
County election officials across Georgia say it’s too late to switch to paper ballots in the upcoming elections, despite warnings that hackers could easily penetrate the state’s antiquated electronic voting system and that Russia could unleash a new wave of disruptive cyberattacks. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg is expected to rule any day on whether the state must switch to old-fashioned paper ballots. Her ruling would come in response to a year-old lawsuit by citizen activists. They argue that the state’s current system of relying on electronic voting machines that lack a paper backup is “hopelessly compromised” and paper ballots are necessary to ensure public confidence in the results. Georgia is just one of many states dealing with the fallout of the U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia worked to influence the 2016 campaign and has compromised — or tried to compromise — state election systems across the country to disrupt the 2018 midterms elections. But interviews and court statements from Republican and Democratic county officials and from state election officials drew the same response: It’s just too late to make the switch.
A coalition in Georgia is filing a lawsuit to force the state to adopt paper ballots in the upcoming midterm elections, a move it claims will improve election security. The Coalition for Good Governance is alleging in a federal lawsuit that Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, Georgia’s current secretary of state, failed to adequately safeguard the state’s voting system from a breach that allegedly left 6 million Georgia voters’ records exposed, CNN reported. The group is claiming Georgia is one of the only states left that does not use a paper ballot, which makes it harder to verify election results.