Correction: An earlier version of this story should have said that Georgia election officials will conduct a limited test of new security software for electronic voting machines ahead of the 2024 election.
Georgia Senate Republicans questioned state election officials and a representative from the Dominion Voting System on Wednesday about security protocols for voting equipment that will undergo limited testing in local elections in time for the 2024 election.
Following Donald Trump's defeat in the 2020 presidential election, a number of unfounded conspiracy theories circulated among Republicans about alleged fraudulent votes cast in the 2020 presidential election. This led to a revision of Georgia's electoral laws in 2021 and increased scrutiny of the security of Georgia's electronic voting system.
In reality, these questions emerged several years before the 2020 presidential election. The nonprofit Coalition of Good Governance is behind a lengthy legal battle questions Georgia's dependence on electronic voting systems.
Georgia has been using Dominion voting equipment in all 159 counties since 2019, including 34,000 voting machines and several thousand scanners.
On Wednesday, state GOP leaders and representatives of election security organizations attacked the state using Dominion paper ballots, which were verified with a printed paper ballot that had a voter's vote recorded on it. The voter can read and review their decisions before the ballot is scanned and tabulated.
State officials under Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Wednesday defended a statewide election system certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission under rigorous federal certification processes.
“We have these records that allow us to double-check and ensure that the votes were accurately counted,” said Charlene McGowan, general counsel to the secretary of state. “Even President Trump’s director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency called the 2020 election the most secure election in American history.”
Before the election, McGowan said voting machines would be thoroughly tested to ensure they were working properly. Voters' choices are verified before paper ballots are tabulated.
McGowan said she understands the reason why people are asking why the state hasn't fully installed the voting software upgrades yet, even though they are available.
“I gave you the 40,000 reasons why we haven't succeeded to date,” McGowan said. “There is a process we have to follow and it is required by law.
“We believe this is a responsible and sensible course of action because it is critically important to us that we prepare our local election officials for success,” McGowan said.
A recently released new version of Dominion voting software was certified by the independent U.S. Election Assistance Commission in March and has not yet been used by any state in a major election.
There are over 100 local elections in Georgia, and five of those counties are participating in a pilot program testing Dominion ballot marking devices.
The machines can recognize the ballot paper, but cannot tell whether it is a real ballot paper or a copy of a ballot paper. The security paper is used for all ballots, including election verification.
“I think more than anything else is the voter’s ability to trust. He looks at it, he reads it, but the QR code captures the data. It’s not his actual ballot,” said state Sen. Marty Harbins, a Republican from Tyrone.
For 2024, the state is introducing a new security measure, so-called parallel surveillance. Employees visit local election offices during voting to determine whether devices have been tampered with and whether the results are reflected correctly on the ballot papers.
State Sen. Max Burns, chairman of the Ethics Committee, asked if anyone could remotely modify Dominion's voting machines. The Sylvania Republican said he doesn't want the election system to take a step forward, just further reliance on security.
Georgia and Dominion election officials were questioned Wednesday about whether they are relying on voting machines that cannot distinguish real ballots from copies.
“I think more than anything else is the voter’s ability to trust. He looks at it, he reads it, but the QR code captures the data. It’s not his actual ballot,” Harbins said.
Georgia Elections Director Blake Evans responded that the voter reviews the ballot text and scans the QR code. He said the process of “parallel monitoring” ensures that the measures put in place are working effectively.
“The text on the ballot is the big control over what matters,” he said. “I have every confidence in our county election officials.”
Raffensperger has defended the system the state purchased in 2019 as secure and battle-tested and that other measures have been taken to protect the system during next year's election cycle. The state returning officer has spoken out against rushing to update the voting software before it has been thoroughly tested.
The debate over electronic voting machines versus paper ballots has also been the focus of conspiracy theorists who blamed the Dominion system for former President Donald Trump's narrow loss to Joe Biden in 2020.
Multiple state and federal investigations found no evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and multiple recounts confirmed Biden's victory in Georgia.
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