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Georgia: A New Election System Tailor-Made for Cheating?

Updated on January 20, 2019

UPDATE: The Georgia Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections Commission [SAFE] has voted to pass a recommendation for touch-screen ballot marking devices. The final vote will now go to the Georgia Legislature.

Already known for being one of the last states in a Stone Age of election non-integrity by having used touch-screen machines with no paper trail whatsoever for the past 16 years, a Georgia commission, Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission will hold its fourth meeting on January 10, 2019, in Atlanta. The subject will be the replacement of Georgia's famously non-transparent voting system, in which voters make their choices on a touch-screen, then hope that those choices are actually counted as the choices that were made. There was no paper trail, nothing to look at. Elections activists called it "push and pray."

But instead of reaching for what the rest of the world, and certainly parts of this country, are reaching for, voter hand-marked paper ballots, Georgia officials seem determined to keep voters as much in the dark as they have ever been, by putting their votes on a new system of bar codes that they can't read. Another touch-screen machine takes their "votes," the ES&S Expressvote, the system under consideration, then prints out the choices on a paper ballot, along with a barcode which supposedly reflects those choices..

How beautiful is that, if you are an election hacker-stealer? The voter touches the computer screen for his or her choices, then it spits out a paper ballot with those choices on it, and a barcode at the bottom. Except the vote-counting machine you slide it into doesn't read the human part. It reads the barcode, which could say anything. It could say Senator X is an idiot.

Not only are you stealing a vote. The voter is getting a false reassurance that their vote is getting counted, because they can see it right there printed on the ballot by the "ballot marking device." But again, that is not what the counting machine sees. It sees the barcode.

This, in election transparency parlance, is bad transparency. Ah, but defenders say, you always have the paper ballots which the voter saw for verification.

But you need a court order to see the paper ballots. Unless the race falls within very narrow parameters like a 1/2 of one percent margin of victory, in most states. And courts never, ever grant full hand recounts of the paper ballots, unless the plaintiff can show that the end result would be different. Which is a tidy little Catch-22. How can you know if the results would be different unless you can see the ballots?

It matters not how funky the data is that you can show the court that something is fishy. Such as a Republican getting 90% in an historically overwhelmingly Democratic district, all on last minute mailed in ballots, or vice versa. The court will just say, that doesn't fall within the 1/2 of one percent rule I'm allowed to grant. Except if it's a rule, who needs a judge? It's automatic. Judges are there, well, to judge.

So if you can't see the paper ballots, they may as well not be there. Which brings us back to the wisdom of having a system where the voter submits a ballot translated into a language they can't read, the barcode. The part that counts, because that is what the machine reads. And all of these machines are eminently hackable, that much we know.

Bad idea, Georgia. Bad, bad idea. Looks like Georgia officialdom has a liking for making the state a laughingstock in the elections department. First push and pray, now the Barcode Tango. Who thinks of these ideas? Oh yes, maybe it's the fact that the contract now under consideration is put out by a company which donated more than $30,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee since 2013. And now new Republican Governor Brian Kemp is in charge.

Not that the Republicans are planning on stealing elections. This could be nothing more that repaying a debt with the kind of legalized bribery which is rampant in our political system. Pay to play. But the fact remains it opens Georgia up to shenanigans for the foreseeable future, long after Kemp is gone. It's like leaving a loaded gun in the closet with no trigger lock, just waiting for someone to find it.

Election transparency activists have been working a long time to arrive at a super-secure,easy to implement system: voter-hand-marked paper ballots (except for disability), counted by the kind of optical scan machine which takes digital images of the ballots. The digital images can then be posted for citizen verification of the vote count. If you want to know more about this, read "New Technology Allows Election Officials to Verify Votes Like Never Before – Will It Be Widely Used in 2018?"

But if your too busy for all that, the thing to remember to tell Georgia officials is, voter-hand-marked paper ballots, counted by the kind of optical scan machine which takes digital images of the ballots. Georgia voters can make up after half-time what they lost in the election transparency race. Or they can take a drubbing that will be spoken of for years.


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