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Judge: Georgia must scrap old voting machines after 2019

FILE - This May 22, 2018, file photo, shows a voter access card inserted in a reader during voting in the Georgia primary in Kennesaw, Ga. A federal judge has ordered Georgia to stop using its outdated voting machines after 2019. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, issued the order after voting integrity advocates and individual voters asked her to order the state to immediately switch to hand-marked paper ballots. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)
FILE - This May 22, 2018, file photo, shows a voter access card inserted in a reader during voting in the Georgia primary in Kennesaw, Ga. A federal judge has ordered Georgia to stop using its outdated voting machines after 2019. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, issued the order after voting integrity advocates and individual voters asked her to order the state to immediately switch to hand-marked paper ballots. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)(AP)

ATLANTA — A federal judge on Thursday issued an order prohibiting Georgia from using its antiquated paperless touchscreen machines and election management system beyond this year.

US District Judge Amy Totenberg said the state must be ready to use hand-marked paper ballots if its new system isn’t in place for the March 24 presidential primary election.

‘‘Georgia’s current voting equipment, software, election and voter databases, are antiquated, seriously flawed, and vulnerable to failure, breach, contamination, and attack,’’ she wrote.

Totenberg also said the plaintiffs would likely win at trial, citing ‘‘the mountain of voter testimony showing that these vulnerabilities have a tangible impact on these voters’ attempts to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot and have their vote counted.’’

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Election integrity advocates and individual voters sued Georgia election officials in 2017 alleging that the touchscreen voting machines the state has used since 2002 are unsecure and vulnerable to hacking. They had asked Totenberg to order an immediate switch to hand-marked paper ballots.

Totenberg had declined a similar request ahead of last November’s gubernatorial election, and she again held back from ordering an immediate switch on Thursday, citing concerns about the state’s capacity to make an interim switch to hand-marked paper ballots for special and municipal elections this fall while also working to implement a new system.

This ruling applies only to Georgia, but at least parts of eight other states still use paperless balloting. Using voter registration and turnout data, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law estimated in a report this week that as many as 12 percent of voters, or around 16 million people, will vote on paperless equipment in November 2020.

Georgia’s new system , following specifications approved by the Republican-led state legislature, was certified last week by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who said it will be in place for the primaries. The state’s $106 million contract with Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems includes new touchscreen voting machines that print a paper record with a code that’s read by a scanner.

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The plaintiffs have said the new machines have many of the same vulnerabilities as the old ones. They also object to the fact that the portion of the printed record that’s read by the scanner is a QR code, not human-verifiable text.