Georgia Officials Resist Switch to Paper Ballots Citing ‘Chaos’

ATLANTA (CN) — The battle over how residents in Georgia will vote in this year’s mid-term elections took a turn on Monday, with plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit over the issue asking a federal judge to force the state’s hand, and state officials claiming a rash decision could lead to Election Day chaos.

The Coalition for Good Governance, a group that advocates for the preservation of voting integrity, is suing Georgia over its intention to use electronic voting machines in November.

The plaintiffs say they fear the machines are susceptible to “malicious manipulation” want a federal judge to force polling places to switch to paper ballots.

In a brief filed Monday, the plaintiffs ask for a preliminary injunction barring the state from using its 27,000 touch screen voting machines.

They say that an injunction is the only way “to protect their right to vote against manipulation or dilution this year.”

But attorneys for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp say a switch to paper ballots three months before the Nov. 6  general election would cause chaos.

Kemp, a Republican, is currently campaigning against Democrat Stacey Abrams to win the race for Georgia governor.

Kemp’s attorneys warned that the change would cost the state millions of dollars and would lead to voter confusion, increased wait times and voter disenfranchisement.

The government claims that the injunction would “undermine voter confidence in the electoral process, the integrity of that process, and trust in the governmental entities and officials who administer the electoral system.”

But the plaintiffs have characterized the government’s concerns as “utterly ridiculous.”

“The only change that a voter will notice … is that, rather than touching an electronic screen, the voter will use a felt-tip pen to record his or her vote on a paper ballot and will place the paper ballot in a secure ballot box,” the plaintiffs’ brief says.

The plaintiffs say the additional cost of the paper ballots and ballot scanning machines could be covered by a recent $10.3 million federal election security grant.

The parties’ response briefs were filed following  an August 7 order from U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg. The judge asked both sides to address the “practical realities” involved in implementing the injunction before the election.

If the judge grants the injunction, 6.7 million Georgia voters will be required to use paper ballots on Election Day.

Georgia polling stations currently use direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines. The state is one of five states still using electronic voting machines with no physical paper trail backup.

Although there’s no evidence that hackers have compromised Georgia’s voting machines or interfered with election results, election integrity advocates say that paper ballots are necessary to protect against technical glitches or deliberate interference.

In their brief, attorneys for the government say that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate “irreparable harm,” reminding voters that the use of voting machines does not prevent individuals from using absentee paper ballots to vote.

“No balloting system is perfect,” attorneys for Kemp say in their brief. “Plaintiffs are naive to think paper ballots do not have tradeoffs and problems, just of different types, gravities and levels of risk.”

Attorney David Cross, who represents the plaintiffs, told Courthouse News on Tuesday that the problems with paper ballots alluded to by the government “pale in comparison to problems with DRE machines.”

“The challenges with paper ballots are not deliberate. They tend to be challenges with whether a signature matches, or whether someone filled the ballot out correctly. Those things are statistically unlikely to interfere with election outcomes,” Cross said.

“The lack of evidence that voting machines have been compromised doesn’t mean they haven’t. With all due respect to the state, it’s a silly argument. People get away with things all the time,” Cross said, referring to the possibility that a hacker could imbed malware inside an election server.  “It could be there and no one knows. It could be lying latent until Election Day,” he said.

In June, Kemp formed the Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections Commission to review options for a replacement voting system.

The commission aims to implement a new voting system in time for the 2020 presidential election.

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