Five days ago, the Associated Press (AP) broke the story of a computer server being wiped clean at the Center for Elections Integrity at Kennesaw State University. The AP described that server as “a statewide staging location for key election-related data,” such as sensitive data and records for millions of Georgia voters. Additionally, the server contained “PDF files with instructions and passwords used by poll workers to sign into a central server used on Election Day.” In other words, it was a digital goldmine for anyone looking to surreptitiously and illegally influence elections in Georgia.
At the moment, there’s no evidence that any nefarious actors managed to make use of that gaping security vulnerability. However, many voting rights groups across the country were rightfully concerned about using antiquated election technology that was wide open to manipulation. They filed a lawsuit on July 3 of this year to try and force Georgia to update that technology, using that server as a prime example of what needed to be fixed.
Four days later, the server was wiped blank. Now, unless voting rights advocates and plaintiffs in the lawsuit can gain access to a copy of the data created by the FBI, there can be no way of knowing whether recent elections have been tampered with. Why would anyone delete such crucial data, and more importantly, who?
The Center for Elections Integrity described the wipe as “standard operating procedure.” Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp denies any involvement from his office. Regardless, the timing and implications of this wipe make it unlikely at best that there is anything “standard” about it.
At minimum, this event should be the wake-up call that Georgia can no longer continue being willfully ignorant of the failings in its electoral systems. Democrats have been trying to get reforms passed through the legislature for years, including everything from using a voter verified paper audit trail to broader access to voter registration to just keeping polling places open. As one might expect in the Republican controlled legislature, none gained any traction. Hopefully, a planned bipartisan bill from Rep. Scot Turner (R) and Rep. Scott Holcomb (D) to introduce a new generation of voting machines will buck that trend.
When Georgians go to the polls, they need to know that their vote counts and is going to the right candidate. Right now, they cannot know that. This state has failed its millions of voters for years. Even if there has been no breach of our elections, the door remains wide open to that possibility. The upcoming 2018 legislative session will give lawmakers an opportunity to rectify the repeated mistakes they have made in ignoring this problem for so long. If they care at all about the sanctity of our democracy, they should choose to act like it.
Tharon Johnson is a consultant with Paramount Consulting Group and a Democrat strategist.