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Georgia Panel Looks To Phase Out State’s 16-Year-Old Voting Machines

The Secure, Accessible and Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission met Wednesday at a library in Cobb County. It's set to hold a handful of meetings around the state.
The Secure, Accessible and Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission met Wednesday at a library in Cobb County. It's set to hold a handful of meetings around the state.
Credit Johnny kauffman / WABE

Georgia needs new voting technology.

That was the basis, at least in part, for a meeting at a Cobb County library Wednesday of state lawmakers, local election officials, a cybersecurity expert and political party representatives.

They’re part of the Secure, Accessible and Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission appointed by Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp. It’s tasked with looking at how best to phase out Georgia’s current voting machines first introduced in 2002.

“I think the time is late,” said Democratic state Sen. Lester Jackson, who sits on the commission. “But I think this is absolutely necessary, that we have a valid voting process for 2020. One of the most important elections of all time.”

Georgia’s current voting machines, set to be used in this year’s midterms, lack a paper trail voters can verify for themselves, which makes the election system vulnerable to potential hacks or errors, according to cybersecurity experts.

The state commission, which met for the first time Wednesday, will look at the cost of new machines that include a voter-verifiable paper trail.

During a public comment period at the meeting, Kemp faced questions about why he hadn’t established the commission earlier in his tenure as secretary of state.

He declined to answer the question during the meeting, but told reporters afterward that phasing out the state’s voting machines wasn’t a priority when he first took office. Kemp said he initially focused on things like setting up the state’s online voter registration system and updating how businesses register in Georgia.

“I know this issue is their No. 1 priority, but we had a lot of others that were failing,” Kemp said. “We set our priorities, and then when we got through that, we were ready to move and start looking at the voting systems. State law dictates the voting system that we use.”

Kemp is a candidate for governor. He faces Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in a July 24 runoff.

Election integrity advocates who push for verifiable voting results complained they weren’t included on the 18-person SAFE commission.

“The Secretary of State’s office is a partisan office, and we are nonpartisan entities, and we can look at things, and look at data, and give research, and best practices,” said Sara Henderson, executive director of Common Cause Georgia. “It’s very disappointing that we’re not represented on the commission.”

Sen. Jackson cheered the panel’s diversity in terms of race, geography and political party.

Kemp said the commission will review information it receives from citizens and outside groups.

The commission is expected to hold a handful of meetings around the state.