ATLANTA (CN) – A nonprofit government watchdog and six Georgia voters are asking a state court judge to throw out the results of last month’s high-profile special election in the state’s Sixth Congressional District, citing concerns over the security of voting machines.
The June 20 runoff election followed an April primary to replace Republican Tom Price, who was appointed by President Donald Trump to head the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
The contest between the GOP’s Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff was seen as a litmus test for the upcoming 2018 mid-term elections and eventually became the most expensive House race in the nation’s history.
Handel ultimately defeated Ossoff with 52 percent of the vote.
But in a complaint filed June 30 in Fulton County Superior Court, the plaintiffs claim state and local election officials ignored warnings that Georgia’s election system is vulnerable to hackers and lacks a paper trail to verify results.
“Georgia law explicitly allows the Secretary of State to, on his own, reexamine the voting machines used in Georgia, and to prevent their use if they ‘can no longer be safely and accurately used,’” says the complaint filed by the Coalition for Good Governance, a Colorado-based nonprofit, and several Georgia residents.
“Despite this, [Center for Election Systems] and the Secretary of State allowed elections in 2016 and 2017 to be run on this compromised system with the knowledge that they could not be presumed to be ‘safe and accurate,’’’ the plaintiffs say.
According to the complaint, cybersecurity researcher Logan Lamb discovered “security vulnerabilities” in August of 2016 and promptly warned the CES.
“Lamb had discovered that CES had improperly configured its server and had failed to patch a security flaw which had been known since 2014,” the lawsuit says. “These mistakes allowed anyone to access the internal information stored on CES’s servers.”
Despite Lamb’s warning, the lawsuit claims Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and election officials in Fulton, DeKalb and Cobb counties did nothing to secure the “compromised system.”
The complaint, says Kemp refused an offer by the Department of Homeland Security to assist Georgia in “securing its electronic election infrastructure.”
The plaintiffs say when Lamb notified elections officials of his findings, he was told “It would be best if you were to drop this now.”
The plaintiffs claim a second researcher, Chris Grayson, also discovered security issues in the months after the presidential election.
“From at least August of 2016 to March of 2017, a time period that overlapped with known attempts by Russia to hack elections in the United States, CES left exposed for anyone on the internet to see: voter registration records, passwords for the central server, and election related applications,” the complaint says.
After Grayson alerted a Kennesaw State University faculty member, the college’s University Information Technology Services then notified CES on April 18.
The UITS Information Security Office put up a firewall and seized CES’s server. According to the complaint, the FBI was alerted two days after Grayson’s warning and took possession of the server.
A “walkthrough” conducted by CES uncovered several security issues.
“These failures included a door to the private elections server closet that did not lock properly, the presence of a wireless access point in the CES facility, and live access to an external network in the private network closet,” the complaint says.
Despite the warnings, Kemp and the State Elections Board allowed the compromised system to be used in the April 18 primary election.
The complaint says a security breach occurred on April 15, when electronic poll books which held a voter registration database and software to program voter access cards were stolen from an election worker’s truck.
Again, Kemp took no action and did not implement the use of paper ballots for the June 20 runoff election between Handel and Ossoff, the complaint says.
The plaintiffs are represented by Atlanta-based attorney Bryan Ward.
Representatives of the defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment.