Georgia election officials Friday loaded and shipped the last truckloads of new voting machines making their statewide debut in the March presidential primaries, getting the equipment to local election offices barely two weeks before advance voting begins.
Distributing 30,000 machines among 159 Georgia counties ahead of the primaries posed a big challenge for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. A federal judge last August ordered Georgia to retire its outdated, paperless system before any votes were cast in 2020, citing security concerns.
Raffensperger’s office had just awarded a $103 million contract for the new machines when the judge ruled, increasing pressure to meet an already tight rollout schedule. Georgia will hold its presidential primaries March 24. But advance, in-person voting begins March 2.
Now, local election officials in each county must have their machines unpacked and tested for accuracy, plus make sure their staffs and volunteer poll workers are trained on the new system, before the first voters arrive.
“We might work night and day, but we’ll be ready on March 2,” said Frank Scoggins, elections supervisor in rural Thomas County, one of the six final counties scheduled to have machines delivered Friday. “We’re not counting days. We’re counting hours now.”
Georgia’s 2020 elections are being closely watched after officials faced a torrent of criticism in 2018. Problems included hours-long waits at some polling sites, security breaches that left voters’ registration information exposed and accusations that strict ID matching requirements and registration errors suppressed turnout. That led to lawsuits and changes to state law that included switching election systems.
The new machines require voters to select their choices on a touchscreen, then print out a paper ballot that’s scanned by another machine to record their votes. The old machines that Georgia used for 18 years were touchscreen-only and produced no paper trail that could be audited.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg ruled in August the old machines were “antiquated, seriously flawed, and vulnerable” and must be removed from service. Some election security experts and advocates say the new system still has security vulnerabilities. They also cite trust issues because the scanners count votes that are recorded as bar codes and aren’t readable by humans.
Totenberg had ordered Georgia election officials to be ready to use hand-marked paper ballots as a backup if the new system wasn’t ready in time. State attorneys assured her last month the new machines for the March primaries would all be delivered by Friday.
At a giant warehouse outside Atlanta on Friday, workers loaded some of the last voting machines into trucks bound for counties in south Georgia. For months, vendor Dominion Voting Systems delivered the new equipment to the warehouse. Then state officials had to test each touchscreen tablet, printer and scanner before shipping them to county election offices.
Gabriel Sterling, who oversaw distribution of the new machines for the Secretary of State’s Office, estimated about 200,000 individual components moved through the warehouse since September.
“Three weeks ago, these shelves were stacked to the gills, with stuff all over the floor on skids,” Sterling said. “Now these empty racks are a beautiful thing.”
Georgia’s election system upgrade isn’t entirely complete.
Some counties that had received their touchscreens, printers and other major pieces were still waiting Friday for some components. In Bulloch County in southeast Georgia, elections supervisor Pat Lanier Jones said she still needed 94 large power packs that serve as external backup batteries for the new system.
Jones said state officials had told her to expect the shipment Monday.
“Yes, it’s a relief,” Jones said. “Everything’s one step closer to being complete.”
Also, the state in December ordered 3,500 additional touchscreen tablets and printers to ensure counties will have some extra units beyond a minimum one machine-per-250 voters prescribed by state law. Some have already shipped. The rest aren’t expected to be in place until Georgia’s primaries for U.S. Senate, Congress and state offices May 19.
Henry County south of Atlanta has received 658 new voting machines, but is slated to receive 67 more.
“That will be enough to get through the presidential primaries,” said Grayson Davis, Henry County’s elections supervisor. “Naturally, we would want the whole 725 for the November election.”
AP writer Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this story. Bynum reported from Savannah, Georgia.