The Newnan Times-Herald


State commission recommends voting machines with paper trail

  • By Sarah Fay Campbell
  • |
  • Jan. 19, 2019 - 4:26 PM

State commission recommends voting machines with paper trail

Sarah Fay Campbell / The Newnan Times-Herald

Assistant County Attorney Nathan Lee speaks with Coweta Elections Director Jane Scoggins at Thursday's meeting of the Coweta Board of Elections and Registration.

Future changes to Georgia’s voting system, and the future election for Coweta sheriff were among the issues discussed at this week’s meeting of the Coweta Board of Elections and Registration.

A state commission tasked with studying Georgia’s electronic voting system and making recommendations for changes recently released its report.

The SAFE: Secure Accessible and Fair Elections Commission voted to recommend that Georgia move toward a new system that uses electronic voting machines that will then print out a paper ballot. Those printed out ballots would serve as the official record of votes.

The commission also made recommendations for changes to absentee ballot forms that would make them easier for voters to understand, a requirement for post-election auditing before elections are certified, and changes in timelines to allow for auditing. Additionally, the commission recommends changes to all the other machinery related to voting, and paper backups for voter rolls.

The commission concluded all new equipment and procedures should be in place by the November 2020 election.

The vote by the commission to recommend electronic machines was not unanimous. Instead, it was 13-3. Georgia Tech computer science and cyber security expert Wenke Lee was the strongest advocate for hand-marked paper ballots, and two Democratic legislators also voted against the recommendation.

Paper ballots would be more secure, and significantly cheaper. The commission report, however, stresses that keeping electronic machines would be better for disabled voters, including visually impaired voters, and simpler for election officials to oversee. It would also be similar to the system currently used by voters.

Coweta Elections Director Jane Scoggins told the board that she and her assistant director will be going to the Georgia Election Officials and Voter Registration Association of Georgia conference, and she hopes to learn more about the proposed new election equipment at the conference.

The Georgia General Assembly is expected to pass legislation and appropriate funding this session to move forward with the changes.

Scoggins told the board that her fear with the printed receipts from the voting machines is that people might think they are supposed to keep them, and wouldn’t turn them in.

The idea of going back to hand-marked paper ballots “feels like we’re regressing,” said Chairman Ralph Presley.

Scoggins said she is comfortable with the security of the current machines, and feels that she will be comfortable with new ones, as well. She said she is a little concerned with voters having to run their paper printouts through a scanner at the polling place.

Scanners can be finicky, and the paper printouts could get jammed, backing things up at the precincts.

Scoggins told the board that everything she’s heard about the recommendations has come from the news media. “The state hasn’t told us anything,” she said Thursday.

As for the sheriff’s election, Scoggins explained to the board that several things will need to happen before the board can call for the election.

Coweta Sheriff Mike Yeager has been nominated and confirmed as U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Georgia.

“There is paperwork that is involved, and we don’t have anything official,” Scoggins told the board. Once Yeager submits official paperwork that he is leaving the sheriff’s office, the Coweta County Board of Commissioners will request that the Board of Elections and Registration call for an election, she said.

The first possible election date will be June 18, Scoggins said. The state will also allow elections on Sept. 17 or Nov. 5.

Scoggins said there will need to be 90 days between Yeager submitting his initial paperwork and the election.