Georgia County Proceeds, Unhindered By Federal Voting Tech Ruling

The recent ruling by a U.S. District Court judge acknowledged the vulnerabilities of voting machines in the state, but it isn’t changing the way voters will cast their ballots in Baldwin County.

by Billy Hobbs, The Union-Recorder / September 21, 2018

(TNS) — Even though voting machines will once again be used by voters to cast ballots in the Nov. 6 general election, it took a ruling from a federal judge this week to decide whether voting would be done electronically or by paper ballot.

Before the judge’s ruling, Baldwin County Elections Superintendent Todd A. Blackwell already had set the wheels in motion to push forward the way he has done for the past 16 years in preparation for an election in Milledgeville and Baldwin County.

The ballot for the upcoming election has already been printed, Blackwell told The Union-Recorder during a Monday morning interview in his office at the Baldwin County Courthouse.

Early voting will begin Oct. 15 and will end Nov. 2.

He said he had not been concerned about what the court did or didn’t do regarding the method of voting.

“What I have to do is go forward with the way have voted for the last 16 years with electronic voting,” Blackwell said. “If at some point in the future, there was an order [to] vote paper ballots only, I would have no problem doing that. That would not be an issue at all. I would then turn around and order additional paper ballots to cover that.”

He explained that he had to start the preparation for another election or otherwise he would be behind the eight-ball when it came time to be ready for the next election.

Asked how difficult it would have been for him to prepare for a paper ballot election as opposed to an electronic method of voting, Blackwell declined comment.

“But what I will respond to though is this: If there is a court order that requires us, which would be all counties in Georgia, to vote a paper ballot, then we’ll pull that off,” Blackwell said. “I don’t have any concerns about that.”

The judge’s ruling Tuesday now gives clear direction as to what method of voting will be used in the general election.

“We’re going to be ready when early voting begins Oct. 15,” Blackwell said.

Had the federal judge ruled that paper ballots would be used, it would have meant a more labor-intensive process, Blackwell said.

“It may have created lines at the precincts because voting on a paper ballot would certainly be slower for the voter,” Blackwell said. “It would take a longer period of time to calculate the results of an election, because instead of having the results computed by the machines, then we would be scanning each paper ballot individually.”

He pointed out that such a process would have been time-consuming.

And instead of finishing an election with final unofficial vote tabulations by 9 or 10 p.m. on election night, results might not be completed until the next morning, Blackwell said.

Officials of a group known as Coalition for Good Governance, a non-profit group that also represents several Georgia voters, had asked a federal court to decide how voters in the state would vote in the upcoming election.

Attorneys representing that group, as well as attorneys defending Secretary of State Brian Kemp and others in the case presented testimony in U.S. District Court in Atlanta last Wednesday. Kemp is also the Republican nominee for governor.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg made a ruling Tuesday, saying voting rights advocates who had sought the change to paper ballots had demonstrated “the threat of real harms to their constitutional interests,” but that she worried about “massive scrambling” that would be involved in the last-minute switch from electronic voting to paper ballots.

She said state elections officials had “buried their heads in the sand” and warned them not to delay in tackling security concerns with voting machines and the elections system.

“Ultimately, any chaos or problems that arise in connection with a sudden rollout of a paper ballot system with accompanying scanning equipment may swamp the polls with work and voters - and result in voter frustration and disaffection from the voting process,” Totenberg said in her ruling. “There is nothing like bureaucratic confusion and long lines to sour a citizen.”

The judge expressed a general consensus among cybersecurity experts and federal officials about the insecurity of electronic voting machines with no paper trail or record. She specifically referred to a Sept. 6 report from the National Academy of Sciences report. That report contends that all elections should be conducted with “human-readable paper ballots” by 2020. The report emphasized that every effort be made to use them in this year’s general election.

“Advanced persistent threats in this data-driven world and ordinary hacking are unfortunately here to stay,” Totenberg said.

She pointed out that state elections officials “will fail to address that reality if they demean as paranoia the research-based findings of national cybersecurity engineers and experts in the field of elections.”

During last week’s hearing, defense attorney John Salter said a conversion to paper ballots so close to election day

would “damage and disable election security.”

A number of people testified during the hearing, including former Secretary of State Cathy Cox, whom Kemp succeeded.

Cox said the possible switch to a paper ballot method of voting could cause a variety of problems, including disenfranchising voters.

Another concern would be longer than usual lines at voting precincts, etc.

The attorney representing some of the plaintiffs in the case, David Cross, meanwhile, contends that Georgia has been “frozen in time.”

Cross was making reference to the state’s circa-2001 voting machines.

Plaintiffs in the case contend that including paper in the process is the wave of the future. The group also has expressed concerns about the state’s security in its election process in wake of possible hacking threats of American elections by foreign governments.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

©2018 The Union-Recorder (Milledgeville, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.