Judge rules Georgia must phase out paperless voting machines by 2020

Judge rules Georgia must phase out paperless voting machines by 2020

A federal judge on Thursday ruled that the state of Georgia may not use direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines in any election after 2019, but stopped short of mandating that the state switch to paper ballots as had been requested.

In addition, the ruling from U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg in Georgia also requires the state to develop contingency measures should the rollout of machines with paper records not be complete by March 2020.

The nonprofit organization Coalition for Good Governance, along with a group of Georgia citizens, had filed suit against the state to mandate that only paper ballots be used in future elections, citing election security concerns stemming from the use of outdated machines.

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“The long and twisting saga of Georgia’s non-auditable DRE/GEMS voting system — running on software of almost two decades vintage with well-known flaws and vulnerabilities and limited cybersecurity — is finally headed towards its conclusion,” Totenberg, an Obama appointee, wrote in the ruling.

The decision was made in the midst of a fiery debate at the national level over next steps around election security, with Republicans and Democrats disagreeing over what, if anything, the federal government should do heading into the 2020 cycle.

The debate over election security intensified following testimony from former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE in July when he said he expects the Russians to attempt to interfere in U.S. elections in 2020, just as his report said they did in 2016.

Marilyn Marks, the executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, said in a statement that she is “very pleased that the voters of Georgia will see an end to the unconstitutional touchscreen DRE voting systems plaguing their elections for 17 years.”

David Cross, a partner at Morrison and Foerster who represented the group of Georgia citizens who filed the suit, described the decision as “a big win for all Georgia voters and those working across the country to secure elections and protect the right to vote."

"The court ordered Georgia to finally take critical steps it has long refused to take to protect elections against interference and voters against disenfranchisement," he said.

The ruling was made weeks after Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) announced that Dominion Voting Systems had been awarded a multimillion dollar contract to implement a voter-verified paper ballot system in the state prior to the March 2020 elections.

The contract was awarded due to a new law that requires the replacement of all Georgia DRE voting machines with electronic ballot-marking devices and optical scanners. 

However, Marks announced on Thursday that the coalition would “promptly file a legal challenge to the State’s decision to adopt this new touchscreen electronic voting system that is just as insecure and un-auditable as the current system.”

Raffensperger said in a statement that he is “pleased the Court endorsed the policy decisions of the state’s elected officials to move to a new paper ballot voting system in time for the 2020 elections while not disrupting 2019 elections.”

“These activist plaintiffs continue fruitlessly attempting to force their preferred policy outcomes on Georgia voters without success," he said in the statement. "While we fully expect these activists and their attorneys to incessantly use scare tactics to try to undermine Georgia elections, their own experts admitted under oath that there is no evidence of Georgia’s voting machines ever being compromised or not accurately counting the votes of our citizens. The Secretary of State’s office is already moving full steam ahead to implement Georgia’s new paper ballot voting system in time for the March 2020 Presidential Preference Primary.”

In her ruling, Totenberg pushed back against previous assertions by Raffensperger that attacks on Georgia voting systems aren’t a potential danger.

“The imminent threats of contamination, dysfunction, and attacks on State and county voting systems, disparaged by the Secretary of State’s representatives at the 2018 hearing virtually as a fantasy and still minimized as speculative at the 2019 hearing, have been identified in the most credible major national and state cybersecurity studies and official government reports,” Totenberg wrote.