Officials see few security issues as voters go to the polls in Georgia
Officials at the federal and state levels said that as of Tuesday afternoon, they were seeing few security concerns related to the hotly contested Georgia Senate runoff elections, as voters continued to make their ways to the polls.
Concerns around both physical and cyber election security had ramped up in the weeks prior to the election, which will decide the balance of power in the U.S. Senate and has come under intense nationwide scrutiny.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that polling stations were experiencing few delays and that there was a wait time averaging around one minute at most jurisdictions.
“After wait times averaging just 2 minutes on November 3rd, Georgia’s election administration is hitting a new milestone for effectiveness and efficiency,” Raffensperger said. “I have always said that after every election, half the people will be happy and half will be disappointed, but everyone should be confident in the reliability of the results.”
Raffensperger acknowledged that there were technical issues at some polling sites in Columbia County, Ga. earlier on Tuesday, with paper ballot scanners and poll worker cards programmed incorrectly. His office emphasized that voting was not delayed during this time, and that emergency ballots were provided for voters.
Gabriel Sterling, the voting system implementation manager for Georgia, confirmed this, tweeting Tuesday that the issues in Columbia County involved “a programming error on security keys for some locations scanners & pollworker cards.”
“Voting continues on backup emergency ballots. Newly programmed keys&cards are being taken to locations via law enforcement,” he added.
Some issues in Columbia Co. There was a programming error on security keys for some locations scanners & pollworker cards. Voting continues on backup emergency ballots. Newly programmed keys&cards are being taken to locations via law enforcement.
— Gabriel Sterling (@GabrielSterling) January 5, 2021
Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, also discussed the polling equipment malfunctions during a press call on Tuesday.
She noted that her organization had received calls to their election protection hotline around the same issue from several other Georgia counties, with some voters reporting that they waited in lines for over 30 minutes and were not provided emergency ballots.
Clarke emphasized though that security concerns problems at polling sites were overall low, in large part due to the high percentage of Georgians who cast their ballots during either early voting or mail-in voting, with around 3 million votes cast prior to Election Day.
“The scope and scale of problems that voters are experiencing are not overwhelming, and that in large part is a reflection of the fact that many eligible voters indeed had their voices heard prior to today,” Clarke said.
Dominion Voting Systems was awarded a $107 million contract by Georgia in 2019 to implement a verified paper ballot system in Georgia after the state took the step to update its voting machines.
The company has come under fire by President Trump due to unsubstantiated reports that the algorithm in its machines had switched votes from Trump to President-elect Joe Biden in November, charges the company has flatly denied. On Monday, Dominion CEO John Poulos told Axios he would sue Sidney Powell, a one-time member of Trump’s legal team, for her statements alleging Dominion helped rig the 2020 election.
The pollbooks used in Georgia were not provided by Dominion, though a spokesperson for the company told The Hill that “the county went to emergency paper ballots until the security key issue was resolved around approximately 10 AM ET. The county elections office has confirmed that voting continued without interruption during that time.”
The federal government has also been keeping a close eye on potential disruptions to the election in Georgia by malicious cyber actors.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) put out a field analysis report in December, first obtained by Yahoo News, warning that the Georgia Senate races were subject to higher risks of physical violence at the polls, targeting by hackers, and disinformation on social media.
The agency noted that it expected that “incidents similar” to cyber threats leading up to the 2020 general elections targeted at Georgia could occur again around the Senate races. These included the use of ransomware in October by hackers to infect systems in a Georgia county, the scanning of state networks, and bitcoin extortion emails sent last summer to election officials on the day of Georgia’s primaries.
DHS also warned that “foreign threat actors view the national significance of Georgia’s US Senate runoff election as an opportunity to use social media and other influence tactics focused on the state.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, none of these types of threats were publicly reported, though a spokesperson for DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the primary agency responsible for helping coordinate election security, told The Hill the agency was monitoring the Georgia elections.
“CISA maintains a strong partnership with election officials in Georgia and we continue to work together to maintain the security of our elections,” the CISA spokesperson said. “Alongside our federal partners, CISA is supporting Georgia in its election today. We have personnel on the ground in Georgia and have our Cyber Situational Awareness Room to monitor for any activity and provide any assistance necessary.”
The spokesperson added that the agency “encourages voters to turn to trusted sources, such as state and local election officials, for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding their elections.”
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