Georgia Officials Not Immune From Suit Over Risky Voting Machines

ATLANTA (CN) – The 11th Circuit ruled Thursday that Georgia election officials must face a lawsuit from voters who say the integrity of elections is compromised by hack-prone electronic voting machines.

In this Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, file photo, people cast their ballots ahead of the Nov. 6 general election at Jim Miller Park, in Marietta, Ga. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)

In a 16-page unsigned opinion issued a week after oral arguments in the case, the three-judge panel upheld a federal judge’s ruling that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and members of the state’s election board are not entitled to immunity from a legal action seeking to switch Georgia’s voting system from electronic machines to hand-marked paper ballots.

The complaint brought by a group of Georgia voters and the Coalition for Good Governance, an election integrity advocacy group, claims that Georgia’s election system “creates an unacceptable risk that voters’ ballots will not be counted because hackers will intercept or modify them.”

Election security experts have warned that Georgia’s direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines are more susceptible to hacking than other voting systems because they lack a physical paper-trail backup.

On Thursday, the 11th Circuit found that the plaintiffs’ claims fall under an exception to immunity because they are seeking injunctive relief from the state’s enforcement of election rules that allegedly violate their constitutional rights.

The voters say the election board’s enforcement of a rule requiring voters to use one of the state’s 27,000 voting machines when casting ballots in person is an ongoing violation of their civil rights “because that rule obligates the use of allegedly unsecure DRE machines.”

The panel also ruled that blocking Georgia’s use of DRE machines does not violate the state’s special sovereignty interests because the plaintiffs are not seeking an order “directing the precise way in which Georgia should conduct voting,” but only injunctive and declaratory relief “against a system that they decry as unconstitutionally unsecure.”

U.S. Circuit Judges William Pryor Jr. and Robin Rosenbaum were joined on the panel by U.S. District Chief Judge K. Michael Moore,sitting by designation from the Southern District of Florida.

The 11th Circuit’s decision comes after Georgia officials appealed U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg’s September 2018 ruling which refused to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims but rejected their petition for an injunction to switch the state’s voting system to hand-marked paper ballots ahead of the November  midterm election.

The 11th Circuit panel also found that the court does not have jurisdiction at this point in the case to address whether the plaintiffs lack standing to bring their complaint.

A representative for Secretary of State Raffensperger did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.

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