RINGGOLD, Ga. (CN) — The plastic film protecting the screens of four tablets used to mark ballots were not yet peeled off, though they were growing dog-eared on the edges, when residents of Catoosa County became some of the first voters in the state to test Georgia’s new voting machines.
About 50 residents of Catoosa County sipped on fruit punch in the building that houses the Catoosa County Elections & Voter Registration Department Monday evening. In a few moments, they were about to cast ballots in a demonstration election that asked questions such as the name of Georgia’s state bird (the brown thrasher).
Georgia announced in July that it had chosen a new method of conducting elections after a contentious 2018 gubernatorial election left voting rights activists questioning the integrity of the state’s voting system. A ballot-marking system that allows voters to fill out their votes on a screen, which prints out a ballot, which the voter then feeds into a scanner produced by Dominion Voting Systems was the winning bid, costing the state $107 million.
Most Georgia voters will continue to use the old system, which records votes digitally, one last time in November elections this year. Catoosa County, a short drive from the Tennessee city of Chattanooga, is one of six counties piloting the new system, which include Carroll, Bartow, Decatur, Paulding and Lowndes counties. It’s a voting system that, according to its critics, failed to solve the problems of the old voting system.
Speaking at the demonstration in Catoosa County, Chris Harvey, director of elections for Georgia, called the rollout of the new system a “big, big lift for Georgia.”
About 30,000 machines need to be distributed across the state. Poll workers require training — voters too — while the state elections office familiarizes itself with the new system. By the end of the month, voting officials in all 159 counties will have received training on the system supplied by Dominion.
The new system combines the benefits of a digital ballot with a paper one.
“The people who want paper now have paper,” Harvey said. “The people that like the technology and certainty of marking the ballot, we have that too.”
Catoosa County, with 46,000 registered voters, received 187 tablets, 187 printers and 19 black ballot boxes with scanners recording the votes of every ballot fed into the box. In the coming election, the state will supply the 50,000 pieces of paper Catoosa needs on hand to run the election.
The new voting system comes after U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg in Atlanta ordered the state to retire its old voting machines — which recorded the votes only digitally, with no auditable paper trail — before the March 2020 elections.
In the same case, the plaintiffs are trying to get the court to change the judge’s decision. They are trying to amend the complaint for the third time. The voting machines — four of the 30,000 the state purchased, sitting in the Catoosa county meeting — violated the constitution, the plaintiffs argued in their complaint.
In a court filing Thursday, Georgia said that each county in the state would receive a tablet, a printer and ballot box within 10 days. As the days go on, the people running elections in Georgia will get trained in the system.