ATLANTA (AP) — Election integrity activists are urging a federal judge to halt the use of Georgia’s current election system, claiming that it is vulnerable to attack and could jeopardize voters’ right to cast and accurately count their votes. In a trial set to begin on Tuesday, activists will argue that the Dominion Voting Systems touchscreen machines are unconstitutional due to their operational flaws. Election officials, however, maintain that the system is secure and reliable, and assert that the state has the authority to determine its election procedures.
Georgia has emerged as a critical battleground in recent elections, drawing national attention to its voting processes. The state’s election system, which is utilized by the majority of in-person voters, consists of touchscreen voting machines that produce ballots with a human-readable summary of voters’ choices and a QR code that is scanned to tally the votes.
Activists contend that the state should adopt hand-marked paper ballots counted by scanners and implement more robust post-election audits. Although U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg, who is presiding over the case, stated in an October order that she cannot mandate the use of hand-marked paper ballots, activists argue that prohibiting the use of touchscreen machines would essentially require the use of backup hand-marked paper ballots, as stipulated by state law.
Instances of baseless conspiracy theories surrounding Dominion voting machines spread after the 2020 election, with allies of former President Donald Trump alleging that the machines were employed to steal the election from him. Dominion, the election equipment company, has taken aggressive legal action in response and reached a $787 million settlement with Fox News in April.
The current trial is a result of a lawsuit filed in 2017, predating the aforementioned claims. Initially targeting the outdated, paperless voting system, it was expanded to address the new Dominion system after the state agreed to adopt it ahead of the 2020 election cycle.
Activists maintain that the new system contains serious security vulnerabilities that could potentially be exploited undetected. They also argue that voters cannot verify the accuracy of their votes due to the unreadable QR codes and assert that the machines’ upright screens compromise ballot secrecy.
Lawyers representing Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger assert that the activists’ claims are meritless both legally and factually. While experts engaged by the activists affirm that they have not found evidence of vulnerabilities altering election outcomes, they emphasize the need to promptly address these concerns to safeguard future elections.
The trial will shed light on the vulnerabilities identified by University of Michigan computer scientist J. Alex Halderman, who examined a Georgia machine and documented potential attack points. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released an advisory based on Halderman’s findings in June 2022, urging jurisdictions that use the machines to promptly mitigate the identified vulnerabilities.
Despite evidence of unauthorized access to election equipment in rural Coffee County in January 2021 and the subsequent upload and sharing of voting system software and data, Raffensperger’s office maintains that installing Dominion’s software update prior to the 2024 elections would be overly burdensome.
In Judge Totenberg’s previous rulings, concerns regarding the voting system were evident. However, she emphasized the activists’ burden to establish a constitutional violation connected to the system or its implementation.
Lawyer David Cross, representing some of the individual voters, remains optimistic about the trial’s outcome, although he anticipates minimal changes before Georgia’s presidential primary in March. A ruling in the activists’ favor could potentially lead to alterations ahead of the November general election, but an appeal from the state is likely.
Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, shares Cross’s sentiment, expressing confidence in their evidence, scientific support, and legal standing.
The trial, which began on Tuesday, compelled Secretary of State Raffensperger to testify after objections from his lawyers. However, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Raffensperger’s testimony was unnecessary due to his status as a top official. This decision disappointed the activists, who believed his presence was crucial for obtaining answers on various matters.
The trial’s implications for public interest and the right of voters to hear from Raffensperger are inevitably noteworthy. Although changes before the 2024 elections may prove challenging, the activists are hopeful for a favorable outcome, despite the potential appeal from the state.