ATLANTA (CN) – The Georgia House voted Tuesday to advance a $150 million effort to replace the state’s 17-year-old electronic voting machines with new touchscreen machines that print paper ballots, changing the way Georgia voters will cast their ballot in the 2020 election.
After more than two hours of debate, the House approved House Bill 316 in a 101-72 vote that was largely split along party lines.
HB 316 also includes provisions to limit changes to polling places, give inactive voters more time before their registrations are canceled, and curtail rejections of absentee ballots for minor discrepancies.
“HB 316 is the next step in a long line of voter-centric reforms that have enabled better elections for our voters, and I am proud to lead efforts to keep Georgia moving on a bright path forward,” said bill author and state Rep. Barry Fleming in a statement released by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office Wednesday.
“This legislation will guarantee ballot access for every eligible voter while protecting election integrity and prioritizing transparency – while also keeping more hard-earned money in our taxpayers’ pockets,” Fleming said.
If the bill passes the state Senate, Georgia’s 27,000 direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines will be replaced by a new ballot-marking device system.
The new machines would still allow voters to choose their candidates on touchscreens but printers attached to the machines would also print ballots for voters to check for accuracy. After voters check their printed ballot, they would bring it to a separate optical scanning machine to be counted.
The printed ballot creates a paper trail and is crucial in the event of an audit or recount. Georgia’s current DRE machines do not provide a paper ballot backup.
The machines, known as ballot-marking devices, are sometimes used in other states to assist voters with disabilities. Georgia would become the first state in the country to utilize the devices in every precinct.
Cybersecurity experts have criticized the use of ballot-marking devices, warning that print paper ballots are still vulnerable to hacking or malfunction. There is also no way to be certain that voters will actually double-check their printed ballots to ensure their vote was accurately recorded, making any audit of the paper useless.
Democrats in the state House have largely opposed the bill, calling instead for hand-marked paper ballots to replace the current voting system.
” I have two major concerns. First, touchscreen machines are actually not more accurate than hand-marking a ballot, and secondly, ballot-marking devices cannot produce meaningful audits,” Rep. Jasmine Clark, a Democrat, said during debate on the bill Tuesday. “I am not anti-technology by any stretch of the imagination. However, I understand the limitations of technology.”
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office released the results of an internal inquiry conducted by the state’s elections chief Chris Harvey into the cost of implementing a hand-marked paper ballot system statewide.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, a hand-marked paper ballot system would cost the state between $207 and $224 million over 10 years.
In a memo released Tuesday, Harvey called the proposed hand-marked paper ballot system “logistically difficult and expensive for the counties to bear.”
Harvey did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.