A crucial test for the future of Georgia elections begins Monday when early voting opens across the state ahead of the Nov. 7 local and special elections. Voters in Conyers will begin casting paper ballots along with new voting and tabulating machines as they decide on a new mayor and two City Council seats. The pilot program comes as advocates have sued to force the state to dump its aging all-electronic system amid fears of hacking and security breaches. And it could pave the way for the first elections system reboot in Georgia since 2002. “Everything is still on track and we are ready to go,” said Cynthia Welch, the elections supervisor for Rockdale County, which is running the Conyers election. Welch and her team have spent the past several weeks demonstrating the system, including to other local elections officials as well as lawmakers.
That excitement, however, is tempered by the fact that the program for now is a one-off effort meant to demonstrate how Georgia could get past its current system, which was considered state-of-the-art when it was adopted 15 years ago but is now universally acknowledged by experts to be vulnerable to security risks and buggy software.
Experts also recommend some kind of paper trail as a way to ensure accuracy of the tally. In Georgia, meanwhile, there’s currently no paper record for most ballots cast in elections.
Any decision would likely be a three- to four-year proposition for the state and, depending on the type of system officials pick, could cost more than $100 million. Cheaper options are available, but the state’s leaders all need to agree on what they want.