Could Georgia Have Paper Ballots By November? Look To Virginia

A U.S. District ordered the Georgia secretary of state’s office, among others, to look into the “concrete realities” of moving to a paper ballot election in a time crunch

David Goldman / Associated Press

A federal judge wants to know what it would take to shift Georgia to a paper ballot voting system in the three months before the November election. A former Virginia election official says it’s possible.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ordered the Georgia secretary of state’s office, among others, to look into the “concrete realities” of moving to a paper ballot election in a time crunch. The move is in response to a lawsuit, filed in July by a group of election integrity activists, meant to stop Georgia from using electronic voting machines that have no paper backup.

Liz Howard, a former deputy commissioner with Virginia’s Department of Elections, said that state pulled off very quick transitions across dozens of counties, twice.

“We have hands on experience with ‘this is doable,’ how it’s doable, the partners that we worked with and working with local election officials while they’re making the transition,” Howard said.

In 2015, Virginia election officials discovered one brand of voting machines they were using was vulnerable to attackers because of its internet connection.

Howard, who’s now an attorney with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said her then-department decertified the machines and moved to paper ballots in some 20 municipalities, all within 60 days of a primary election.

Last year, additional fears of weakness forced Virginia to pull off another major round of replacements, this time in less than 50 days before a gubernatorial election. Howard said coordinating with the equipment vendors was key to coordinating and training with local officials.

“We had multiple locals who, I think it’s fair to say, were very skeptical of the potential impact that this significant change would have on their offices, their staff and their voters,” said Howard.

But, she says, some changed their tune after doing it.

“We had multiple election officials who said ‘Look, the transition to paper ballots, away from the touchscreens, was much more intuitive, certainly for the poll workers – whose age skews older – and it also seemed to be intuitive for the voters,” she said.

Were those expedited transitions ideal?

Howard said no.

“Having more time to provide additional instruction and opportunities for voters to become familiar with the equipment and the new process for voting is always preferable,” she said.

There’s never a good time frame for making this move she said, but she believes the same model could work statewide in Georgia.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp has called the idea of implementing a change before November an “absolute disaster.”