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Georgia Gets a Look at 2020 Voting System Options

The new voting systems could cost over $100 million to replace outdated tech that doesn't immediately return paper ballots.

(TNS) — The public got a first view Thursday of new voting systems the state of Georgia might implement in 2020 elections while critics called for an immediate return to paper ballots to restore confidence in the process.

At a meeting of the statewide Secure, Accessible and Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission, held in co-chair Rep. Barry Fleming's home county of Columbia County, six voting systems vendors demonstrated their technologies after morning panels on voting rights, access, security and intergovernmental relations.

The "Clear Vote" system uses the "vote visualization" system which creates a scan of every bubble mark on a paper ballot, said Bill Murphy, sales director for vendor Clear Ballot.

The scan results in an exact record of each mark that elections officials can review and audit on the spot, Murphy said. Ballots can be printed in advance or generated for voters as they appear at the polls, he said. The system includes a touch-screen system to mark ballots for voters with disabilities, he said.

Voters take their filled-out ballots to a scanner, which alerts them to issues with missed or over-votes before they cast it.

The company recently implemented a system in King County, Wash., which includes Seattle, and provides election auditing technology in Broward County, Fla., he said.

Unisyn's voting system is easy, requiring poll workers only "plug it in" to start voting. Dropping the ballot in a scanner, they are asked to review an image of it before casting, said representative Wes Wagner. The company has contracts in Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Arizona counties, he said.

Elections Systems and Software has statewide contracts with Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Delaware and West Virginia, said regional sales manager Mac Beeson.

Company representatives emphasized the company's ballot-marking device, which produces a printed list of a voter's choices, and its digital scanner, which gives a voter the option of voting a fresh ballot before casting the vote.

"We're focusing on while the voters are in front of the machine, let the voter make the decision," Beeson said.

The scanner, the "DS 200," drops the ballots into a blue bin that election workers pop out and wheel away, while results are placed on an encrypted thumb drive, he said.

The company also offers straight paper-ballot voting and hybrid systems, said regional sales manager Jeb Cameron.

The ballot-marking system makes all ballots accessible to people with disabilities, so voters need not identify themselves as needing assistance, he said.

The system would cost anywhere from $20 million to more than $100 million depending on its configuration and the number of units, he said. None of the companies could give specific cost estimates.

Hart Intercivic's "Verity Voting" system reads each contest and a voter's choices directly from a paper ballot, rather than a bar or QR code, and has systems in 11 states, a company representative said.

Smartmatic voting systems has a contract with Los Angeles County and has supported elections around the globe. The multinational company was founded in Venezuela and now headquartered in London.

Director of U.S. services for the company, Ed Smith, demonstrated a system of four components, including a poll book, which verifies a voter, a ballot marking device, a ballot scanner and an election management system.

Smith said the system was the only one demonstrated Thursday that "from its inception" had complied with elections security protocols.

"We do not tabulate from bar codes," and use optical character recognition instead, he said.

Several who spoke during the meeting's public comment period said they were concerned about election security.

John Fortuna, a Green Party candidate for state senate, said the state needs paper ballots and ballot scanners at each polling place.

The ballot-marking devices "amount to very expensive pens and pencils" for able-bodied voters, he said.

The state needs "complete transparency on every aspect of the bidding" for the system, and to "make certain the lobbyists are not raking the citizens over the coals," he said.

In contrast with the concerns, former Republican party official Dave Barbee called the need for a paper trail "metal hats" and said he trusted every vote he'd cast since the last time paper ballots were used.

With paper ballots, "somebody always found another box that had ballots that weren't counted," Barbee said.

Priscilla Smith called into question Secretary of State Brian Kemp's role in the process as a candidate for governor and urged the commission to represent voters' interests. Kemp co-chairs the commission.

"I don't know who is going to represent us if you don't," she said.

Smythe DuVal, the Libertarian candidate for secretary of state, said hand-marked paper ballots with post-election audits were the "gold standard" for voting.

Rick Barron, elections director for Fulton County, said a switch to paper will make early voting difficult in the populous county.

"The biggest complaint with paper ballots in early voting is voters receive the wrong ballot," he said. "Whatever system you end up deciding on, please be sure it accommodates early voting."

Garland Favorito, co-founder of Voter GA, said he warned the state about its current voting system before it was implemented for its lack of results that can be audited.

"At least half or more of the presentations you saw today were for unverifiable voting systems just like we have been fighting for 16 years," Favorito said.

©2018 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.