A closer look: New voting system in Georgia

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – News 3 got a close up look at what is called a “Ballot Marking Device” which is part of the state of Georgia’s new voting system.

The device is familiar in the sense that it has a touch screen. Marking the ballot is similar to what has been done in the past on Georgia’s voting machines.

The difference comes when a piece of paper, referred to as a paper ballot by the Georgia Secretary of State, prints out.

Voters will take that paper to a large scanning device, insert it into the machine and should see the words “ballot cast” pop up.

The state of Georgia has purchased more than 30,000 of these ballot marking devices which will be installed in voting precincts in all of the 159 counties in Georgia. The large scanners will be installed as well but in some precincts, perhaps only one or two depending on the number of registered voters.

Wednesday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said that voters in two counties actually used the new system in last month’s general election — and with good results.

“We’ve had this great feedback from voters and that’s at the end of the day what we really care about is that voters have a great voting experience,” said Raffensperger.

The secretary of state says the new system is giving voters “confidence to know my vote will be counted correctly.”

But concerns remain from a number of organizations that are petitioning the State Election Board.

The petitioners which include Coalition for Good Governance, the Libertarian Party of Georgia, the Morgan and Newton County Democratic committees and Georgia Advancing Progress PAC cite problems exposed during a pilot test of the voting system in November elections.

The groups say that includes newly identified security risks along with delayed equipment delivery and what they term “massive training and logistics required before the March Presidential primaries.”

Raffensperger conversely told News 3 that the “errors were minimal in the test counties in November and when there was a runoff in two of those counties a month later they went error-free, so we learned a lot from those.”

He says despite criticism, the new system will prove opponents are wrong.

“These systems have been used nationwide but there are just some naysayers that no matter what we do what they really want is a hand-marked paper ballot and they want hand counting of the ballots and they want to take us back into time,” Raffensperger told us.

Meanwhile, the groups petitioning the Board of Election are asking for consideration at the Dec. 17 meeting, saying among other issues that new electronic pollbooks are “highly vulnerable” and are proposing two rules to help avoid long wait times to vote.

Those alternatives would include:

Paper PollBook Back-ups. Requires an updated printed pollbook in all precincts on Election Day, to be used in case of electronic pollbook discrepancies or malfunction. This reduces unnecessary provisional ballot issuance and polling place confusion from errors in e-pollbooks.

The groups are also asking that the state allow an “incremental voting system conversion which would permit individual counties to choose the extent of system conversion that they could meet with confidence rather than requiring a complete immediate conversion to the numerous components required by the fully implemented new system.”

“It is imperative that we as citizens be given a fair and safe opportunity to exercise our fundamental right to vote. What we should all seek is simply that – but this new system being implemented is leaving a sense of uncertainty that our right to vote is not safe and secure,” said Ryan Barrett, Chair, Newton County Democratic Committee, and Chair, Democratic Party of Georgia, US Congressional District 4.

Raffensperger again says the implementation plan is rolling out smoothly and that he anticipates no problems getting it ready for March primaries and more importantly for 2020.

“Failure is not an option and we know that,” Raffensperger told News 3. “We are building great partnerships with the counties and working to ensure success.”

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