How could Georgia make its current voting system worse? Officials seem to have found a way. Even before the 2018 midterm election, the Peach State had achieved notoriety based on, among other things, its use of hackable paperless voting machines. Paperless voting machines are considered an especially attractive target for hackers and corrupt insiders because they provide no independent paper record of voter intent that can be used to determine whether electronic tallies are legitimate. Thus, Georgia is one of just a handful of states that still exclusively use such paperless machines. The good news is that Georgia, which was the first state in the country to deploy paperless machines statewide, has finally decided to replace these machines. But Georgia’s newly elected Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger (R), hopes to replace them not with hand-marked paper ballots and scanners (as virtually all independent cybersecurity election experts recommend), but rather with touchscreen ballot-marking devices, a prime example of which is the ExpressVote system from Election Systems & Software, LLC (ES&S). The ExpressVote is the specific system that Governor-elect Brian Kemp (R) began promoting last year. ES&S is Georgia’s current vendor.
Like other touchscreen barcode balloting systems, the ExpressVote generates computer-marked paper printouts (Kemp and many others misleadingly call them “paper ballots”) with barcodes that are then counted on scanners. Although these paper printouts include human-readable text purporting to summarize the voter’s selections, the barcode, which humans can’t read, is the only part of the printout actually counted by the scanner. According to computer science professor Richard DeMillo of the Georgia Institute of Technology, the barcode constitutes a new potential target for malevolent actors, as it can be manipulated to instruct the scanner to flip or otherwise alter votes.
Proponents of these new generation touchscreen systems sometimes claim that the addition of a new target for hackers, the barcode, makes no difference as long as robust manual audits of the human-readable text on the barcoded paper printouts are conducted. But Georgia does not require manual audits at all, and there is no reason to assume the state will ever require them for all federal and state races, much less before the next major election in 2020.