Judge denies attempt to force Georgia to use paper ballots this year

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Georgia voters can cast ballots on "antiquated" and "vulnerable" electronic voting machines one last time, writing that it would be too disruptive to switch to paper ballots before this fall's elections.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg wrote that election officials are already working to upgrade the state's voting system by buying $107 million in new voting equipment that will include paper ballots along with touchscreen voting machines.

[Secretary of State announces new $106M voting machine contract]

She said it would be "unwise" to immediately discard the state's 17-year-old voting machines, which lack paper ballots that could be used to check the accuracy of election results. Voters testified last month that those machines have flipped votes, lost ballots and posed election security risks.

Her 153-page ruling clears the way for 310 local elections to move forward as planned this fall, including votes for the Atlanta school board, the Fulton County Commission and city councils across the state.

But Totenberg said she's deeply concerned about threats to election security.

She ordered the state to create a backup plan that would provide voters with hand-marked paper ballots in case the state's new voting system isn't completely rolled out to all 159 counties in time for the presidential preference primary election on March 24.

The lawsuit by concerned voters and election integrity advocates alleged that Georgia's voting machines are vulnerable to hacking, tampering and malfunctions, undermining fundamental voting rights.

"The threat of election interference has only grown since (the plaintiffs) were here before the court seeking relief one year ago in September 2018, while the state defendants have only just begun to launch necessary steps to provide a more secure election," Totenberg wrote.

Election officials said there's no evidence that the state's voting system has been compromised, and they said the transition to a new voting system will rectify worries about election security.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced last month that the state will spend $107 million to buy new election technology from Dominion Voting Systems, the nation's second-largest elections company.

The system, which will still use touchscreens but with the added component of printed-out paper ballots, is scheduled to be ready for use by every in-person Georgia voter during the presidential preference primary election on March 24.

Totenberg made a similar ruling before last year's elections, when she said there's a "concrete risk" to Georgia's electronic voting system but declined to force a change to paper ballots filled out with a pen just weeks before Election Day.

Since then, the Georgia General Assembly voted to purchase a replacement voting system, along with changes to improve cybersecurity practices, voter registration cancellations and absentee ballot counting.

This report was written by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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