Early voting in the runoff for Georgia’s Sixth District congressional seat kicked off May 30; election day itself comes on June 20. The race has garnered national attention as one in which Democrats could pick up a long-held Republican seat. It has also generated scrutiny, though, for taking place in a state with some of the most lax protections against electoral fraud, at a time when Russia has meddled freely in campaigns in the US and abroad. But Georgia’s voting issues aren’t rooted in any specific hacking threat. The problem instead lies in the state’s inability to prove if fraud or tampering happened in the first place. By not deploying a simple paper backup system, Georgia opens itself up to one of the most damaging electoral outcomes of all: uncertainty. “You have an un-provable system,” says Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, a group that promotes best practices at the polls. “It might be right, it might not be right, and that absence of authoritative confirmation is the biggest problem. It’s corrosive.”
First, the good news. Unlike dozens of other states, Georgia officials maintain that Russian hackers did not compromise the state’s election infrastructure in any way during the 2016 presidential election. Georgia voting machines also don’t connect to the internet, and the state says it tests them before, during, and after voting to confirm that they aren’t running unapproved software, like viruses or other malicious programs.
But researchers have demonstrated that hackers can compromise machines like those used in Georgia. The state has also suffered election security lapses, including a [recent incident],( detailed in Politico), in which a huge amount of sensitive election data sat exposed for many months in Georgia’s unified election center at Kennesaw State University. These fresh developments feed longstanding concerns about the security of Georgia’s election infrastructure overall—and the need for paper backups so the system can be audited.