(Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. The next reports on the destruction of electronic evidence in the election records and previously unknown security lapses. The Secretary of State’s office has been asked to respond,)

Conservatives staunchly support the notion of honesty and accountability in government. And conservative initiatives to protect the integrity of elections (e.g., voter identification laws) demonstrate a fidelity to democratic (small d) principles. Knowing that Georgia is a conservative state, purportedly with a conservative governor and legislature, the question arises: Why is Georgia spending $107 million for a new electronic voting system that does not satisfy legal requirements, cannot generate accountable election results and will be obsolete when installed?

The decision is all the more confounding when one considers that for less than $250,000, Georgia’s current voting system can be reconfigured to use hand-marked paper ballots and existing scanners to facilitate secure elections with verifiable results— a solution used in 112,000 precincts throughout the country to record the votes of some 133 million voters. The traditional paper ballot solution would allow the state to spend $106,750,000 on transportation, schools or health care— areas of desperate need.

Coalition for Good Governance is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting constitutional liberties and individual rights, with emphasis on elections, government transparency and accountability, As such, we are alarmed by Georgia’s unacceptable history of election insecurity.

In litigation pending in federal court, the state has stridently defended the current defective, insecure and un-auditable election system by claiming it to be “accurate and secure.” Fortunately, the Court has not been misled. In September 2018, the Court noted that “several national authorities…have raised the alarm about U.S. election security — and particularly about the use of [Direct Electronic Recording voting machines—DREs] in elections.” The Court also noted that “the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declared DRE voting systems to be a ‘national security concern.’”

Although it consistently disputed and rejected the opinions cyber-security and election security experts, the State has implicitly acknowledged that the risks and vulnerabilities of the current election system require that DREs must be abandoned. Following two days of alarming revelations in federal court about Georgia’s election security practices, the Secretary of State’s office announced its decision to purchase and implement the Dominion ImageCastX system an electronic voting barcode ballot system. In his media promotion of the new system, the Secretary of State’s office released a misleading video showing a completely different system using traditional ballots and no barcodes, resulting in inaccurate media reports and confusion among county election officials. The Secretary has refused demands that his office retract and correct the misleading impression created by the video. Honesty was at one time a conservative virtue.

Unfortunately, DREs and the ImageCastX electronic voting systems share the same fundamental constitutional violations. For example, given the barcode system is an electronic system, security experts have cautioned that it is subject to manipulation that could alter the outcomes of elections without voters or authorities being aware of the compromise of the system. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has warned against relying on barcode-based devices without more research, saying they “raise security and verifiability concerns.”

Additionally, the Dominion’s ImageCastX ballot records an elector’s vote in a QR barcode— a machine-readable, two-dimensional matrix. Voters simply cannot read the votes they are casting. A glance at the bar code ballot used in Denver’s November 2017 election reveals some of the challenges voters will be confronted with in actually verifying votes with the ballots generated by the ImageCastX system.(See https://coaltionforgoodgovernance.sharefile.com/d-s02226d73cd34644b)

Implementation of the unconstitutional ImageCastX system is questionable as well because the system cannot satisfy Georgia’s certification requirements or Election Code, which should give the bond underwriters and local election officials cause for concern. If the system cannot be certified the new system cannot be deployed to replace DREs, and the wildly ambitious and aggressive schedule for implementation— by March 2020—will prove to be as false a fantasy. In this regard, it is important to know that the ImageCastX system was unanimously rejected by Texas technical certification examiners. Reading the report of the Texas Secretary of State’s office, one is left to wonder whether the Dominion system, with its flawed design, could be implemented to work as intended, Georgia’s Secretary of State does not appear to be at all concerned about any of these issues.

Implementation will also require debugging 75,000 new computerized components with multiple software programs in 159 counties before late January. Experts say that the new system implementation is impossible and carries extremely high risk of failure. By comparison, reconfiguring the current Diebold system to run secure paper ballots would require no new software, little time, no new know-how, and will utilize about 5,000 proven components which have been operating here for years.

The fight against DREs and for election integrity yielded some jaw-dropping revelations in a July evidentiary hearing. For example, Michael Barnes, the former Director for the failed Center for Election Services at Kennesaw State University, admitted that during 2018 all programming of Georgia elections systems were outsourced to a vendor, Election Systems & Software (ES&S). This means that an unaccountable third-party was given the ability to program (or mis-program) every ballot and machine in the state, and the public, the press, and political parties could not validate its work, before or after the election.

The danger of Georgia’s illegal outsourcing practices for elections should be recognized and demands should be made to terminate all such agreements and violations should be prosecuted in the future. Installing the new voting system requiring massive vendor involvement should be avoided to prevent more of the unacceptable third-party control of Georgia’s elections.

Leadership in the effort to clean up Georgia’s election system must come from business and civic leaders demanding accountable voting systems and adherence to democratic norms.

Marilyn Marks is executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance and Cary Ichter is an Atlanta attorney assisting the group.

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