Georgia Republicans are taking actions that will undermine the state’s voting system — and in a gerrymandered state government, they might just get away with it.
When U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg upheld Georgia’s current voting system in October, she criticized the state’s machines for their vulnerability to “malicious intrusion.” Her decision was limited by the fact that the midterm elections were too close for the government to completely overhaul its existing system. After, lawmakers of both parties expressed interest in a new method of voting. This presented Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger an opportunity to restore voters’ confidence in their voting systems by investing in paper ballots, but his response has been lackluster.
Instead of choosing the cheaper and more reliable paper option, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Raffesberger want to spend $150 million on ballot marking machines, which are vulnerable to the same issues as Georgia’s current touchscreen system. Ballot marking machines produce paper records containing only barcodes, making it impossible for voters to verify that their votes were accurately recorded. Rather than selecting this unverifiable and expensive method of counting ballots, Georgia should employ a paper ballot system, the only voting method that leaves an incontrovertible paper record.
Paper ballots would also solve a serious issue with Georgia’s current system: the lack of a physical receipt. That lack of a paper trail makes it impossible to accurately verify votes in a recount. This problem is exacerbated by readily accessible online videos that show how to easily hack Georgia’s voting machines and change votes. The National Academy of Sciences has established that these insecurities warrant the solitary use of paper ballots by the 2020 elections.
The machines that Republicans want to purchase are made by Election Systems & Software (E.S. & S.), a company with a troubling history of unethical practices. Lobbying by E.S. & S. played a key part in the killing of a 2006 bill in the Georgia legislature that would have required a verifiable paper trail for each ballot. Additionally, E.S. & S. offered Georgia election officials expense-paid trips to locations such as New York and Las Vegas and other perks, likely a contributing factor in their recent decision to favor the expensive ballot-marking machines.
Georgia Republicans have long paid lip service to the idea of protecting election integrity via purging inactive voters from the rolls and passing restrictive voter ID laws, policies that are largely ineffective at preventing voter fraud. However, when presented with the opportunity to make a meaningful change by switching to a simpler and more secure ballot system, these same officials equivocate, calling into question their true motivations.
Georgia voters deserve a secure, easily-verifiable voting system; Raffensperger’s current plan for ballot-marking machines does not accomplish that goal. If Republicans actually want to protect elections from external influence, paper ballots are the only option.
The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei.