State Rep. Philip Singleton, R-Sharpsburg, has joined a lawsuit seeking to bring Georgia's electronic voting equipment into compliance with Georgia law.
Filed by VoterGA.org , the suit alleges that the state's voting machines, purchased in 2019, don't comply with the 2019 state law that required machines to produce a voter-verifiable paper trail.
Singleton joined the lawsuit as a Georgia voter. Originally, Congressman Jodi Hice was going to be a petitioner on the lawsuit, according to Singleton.
Hice, who is running for secretary of state, chose to withdraw and Singleton was asked to join.
Scanners read the QR codes, not the words
While Georgia's new electronic "ballot marking devices" print out a paper ballot with the voter's choices listed, those listed choices aren't actually what the ballot scanner reads and records as votes.
Instead, those votes are also encoded in a QR code – which is sometimes referred to as a barcode. And it's that code that the scanner reads.
The fact that votes are encoded onto a QR code that voters cannot read, even with a code reader device, is the crux of the lawsuit. There's no way for a voter to tell whether the information in the QR code matches the words on the ballot.
The suit asks for a declaratory judgment finding the machines do not comply with state law, as well as temporary and permanent injunctions against their use.
Georgia law requires that "electronic ballot markers shall produce paper ballots that are marked with the elector's choices in a format readable by the elector."
"This system violates Georgia law," said Garland Favorito of VoterGA in a press conference on the lawsuit. "It accumulates in-person votes that are hidden in QR code."
Singleton said this week that embedding the votes in a QR code that voters cannot read is a clear violation of Georgia election law.
If voters are going to have any confidence in our election system, "we have to make sure that Georgia elections follow Georgia election law," Singleton said.
Concerns have been raised before
Concerns about the QR code aren't new. Voting advocates, including Favorito, spoke against using bar codes on ballots during meetings that led up to the 2019 law and purchase of voting machines.
The state of Colorado banned the devices before Georgia purchased the system because of the use of QR codes that can't be verified by the voter, according to the suit.
Federal Judge Amy Totenburg expressed concerns about the QR codes in the case of Curling V. Raffensperger, which was originally filed in May of 2019.
In an October 2020 order in the Curling case, Totenburg denied an injunction to stop the state's rollout of the voting machines because of the short time period before the 2020 general election.
The petitioners in that case had asked that the election take place on hand-marked paper ballots.
The Curling lawsuit also claimed that the system is not voter-verifiable, secure or reliable.
According to Totenburg's order, Georgia is the only state using the QR code based system statewide; however several counties and cities around the country do use it.
Only two states, Georgia and South Carolina, require the use of ballot marking devices for all voters, the order stated; most jurisdictions across the U.S. use hand-marked ballots as the major method for voting, and provide BMDs for disabled voters who request them.
Totenburg wrote in the order that the evidence shows that the Dominion BMD system does not produce a voter-verified ballot.
However, the scanners are capable of reading ballots without the QR code, and Dominion representatives said there could be software updates that would allow the BMD system to provide those types of ballots.
The scanners are also capable of reading hand-marked paper ballots where voters “bubble in” the oval next to their choice, according to local election officials.
While Totenburg declined to issue an injunction because the election was so close, she states in the order that the risks presented by the new system and its implementation "are neither hypothetical nor remote under the current circumstances."
She stated that the issues identified in the case will "not disappear or be appropriately addressed without focused state attention, resources, serious ongoing serious evaluation by independent cybersecurity experts and open mindedness.
"At the very least, the Court cannot fathom why, post-election, the state and Dominion would not at least be moving toward consideration of the software upgrade option Dominion originally promised, allowing voters to cast ballots that are solely counted based on their voting designations and not on an unencrypted, humanly unverifiable QR code that can be subject to external manipulation and does not allow proper voter verification and ballot vote auditing," she wrote at the end of the order.
New litigation seeks relief
Favorito was asked at the press conference why the case needs to be relitigated after Totenburg’s comments. It’s because, so far, there has been no relief ordered by Totenburg in that case, he said.
While VoterGA, as well as many others, including Singleton, have asked for more investigation of potential irregularities in the 2020 presidential election, particularly absentee ballot issues, that's not what this lawsuit is about.
"This is not some effort to do anything other than exactly what the lawsuit says it is – to make sure that the election systems in Georgia elections follow Georgia law," Singleton said.
There is no way for someone to know how the QR codes record the votes, he said, as it is all proprietary information.
Singleton wasn't a member of the Georgia House of Representatives when the voting machine law was passed in 2019. However, "I think we have an obligation as a legislature to make sure that the system we are using meets the minimum standard, which is it follows Georgia election law.
"I want to be able to know who my vote counted for," he said.
"When that ballot is being cast, we do not know how the vote is being cast for and how it is being tallied – that's a problem."