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Judge orders Georgia officials to provide backup paper poll books ahead of election

Judge orders Georgia officials to provide backup paper poll books ahead of election
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A federal judge on Monday ordered state officials in Georgia to provide backup paper poll books with lists of all eligible voters to precincts in an effort to prevent long lines and improve procedures during November's general election. 

The poll books are used to check voter registration at polling sites and were partially responsible for voting difficulties in some districts in Georgia during the June primaries. 

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg, who was nominated by former President Obama, ruled that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) must immediately send paper formats of all the information contained in electronic poll books and require election officials to use this paper backup in the case of a machine malfunction. 

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Totenberg also ordered Raffensperger to ensure that emergency paper ballots are available at precincts to ensure Georgia voters can cast a ballot in the case of a malfunction, and additionally to ensure election officials are trained in how to handle both paper poll books and emergency ballots. 

“The narrowly tailored relief ordered directs that the State Defendants provide at least a modicum of the voting backup plan tools essential to protecting voters’ constitutionally protected ability and right to cast a ballot that is counted and given the same weight as any other on this coming November 3rd general election day and thereafter,” Totenberg wrote in the 67-page order. 

Totenberg noted that “it is not too late” for state officials to “take these reasonable concrete measures to mitigate the real potential harms that would otherwise likely transpire at precinct polling locations grappling with the boiling brew created by the combination of new voting equipment issues and old voter data system deficiencies.”

The Associated Press reported that Raffensperger plans to appeal the ruling. Raffensperger stated that his office and election officials “are preparing Georgia for the biggest election turnout in history, and it will do so successfully despite the constant distraction of litigation filed by activists determined to undermine the credibility of our elections.”

The ruling comes after voters in some precincts in Georgia were forced to wait in line for hours during the June primary elections due to a smaller amount of polling locations during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as issues with polling pads. 

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The state awarded a $107 million contract to Dominion Voting Systems to implement a “verified paper ballot system” following a previous ruling from Totenberg last year that required state officials to phase out paperless voting machines ahead of the 2020 elections in order to increase election security. 

Dominion’s KnowInk PollPads are the equipment the order applies to, with Dominion providing technical support to election officials using its equipment during elections. 

The plaintiffs — made up of a coalition of voting rights advocates — cited multiple incidents with the poll books during both the June 9 and Aug. 11 Georgia elections in asking Totenberg to require backup paper poll books, with voters in some cases sent to different polling locations or being denied a ballot due to poll book issues. 

The Coalition for Good Governance, one of the plaintiffs in the case, tweeted its support for Totenberg’s ruling on Monday, noting that “updated paper backup poll books in every precinct is a simple solution that will help prevent long lines caused by check in delays and potential errors from electronic poll books.”

Totenberg noted in the order Monday that the ruling on backup paper poll books was meant to be a portion of a larger case brought by the plaintiffs targeting voting machines in the state. 

Totenberg wrote that due to new evidence submitted by the voting rights plaintiffs last week, the larger ruling was delayed, and the narrower ruling was rolled out to “avoid delay” and give state officials time to implement the ordered measures ahead of Election Day. 

The Coalition for Good Governance on Friday filed a court document alleging that there is a serious error in Georgia voting databases, citing a message sent by a Georgia state election official to counties warning of the error and noting that the error would require “every county to get a new database” prior to Election Day. 

Totenberg wrote Monday that “the relief that the Coalition Plaintiffs seek here is a limited common sense remedy to the real and repetitive voting impediments Plaintiffs have experienced at the precinct threshold and the substantial threat that they will face from these impediments anew in the 2020 general election if preliminary injunctive relief is not granted.”