GEORGIA - Voting rights and election security have dominated the 2018 election season in Georgia.
From fears of Russian interference to debates over voter registration purges, the fundamentals of democracy will be overseen by whoever wins races for governor and other offices.
Here’s what you need to know about voting in Georgia:
VOTING MACHINES AND ELECTION SECURITY
The election on Tuesday could be the last time voters use Georgia’s 16-year-old touchscreen machines, which election integrity advocates say are vulnerable to hacking.
Georgia is one of the last five states that rely entirely on electronic voting machines that have no verifiable paper record, leaving no way to double-check the accuracy of election results.
A federal judge said the machines create a “concrete risk” for tampering, but she denied a motion in September to discard them on short notice before the election. The judge also criticized state election officials for having “buried their heads in the sand” by failing to safeguard Georgia’s voting system.
But election officials say voters shouldn’t be overly worried that the machines are insecure.
Altering results would require someone to gain access to election servers or machines and then change votes without being detected. There’s no evidence that Georgia’s 27,000 touchscreen voting machines have been hacked during an election, but tech experts say malware could be written so that it’s undetectable.
The aging machines could be replaced in time for the 2020 presidential election if state lawmakers approve funding to buy a new voting system next year.
Cases of illegally cast votes are rare in Georgia and throughout the nation.
Despite fears about votes cast in the names of dead people or noncitizens, there’s little proof it happens often.
Supporters of Georgia’s photo ID laws say those requirements have curtailed fraud by forcing voters to prove their identities when they show up to vote.
Still, there have been cases of voting irregularities.
At least two felons were allowed to vote illegally in primary elections in May because a large list of felons hadn’t been processed in time.
At least 1.4 million voter registrations have been canceled in Georgia since 2012, including more than 500,000 in one night last year — possibly the largest mass disenfranchisement in U.S. history.
The registration cancellations are meant to remove names of voters who have died, moved out of state or been convicted of a felony. Cancellations also targeted hundreds of thousands of voters for not participating in an election for at least six years, requiring them to re-register to regain eligibility.
Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is running against Democrat Stacey Abrams for governor, has said it’s important to keep accurate lists of registered voters to ensure that only current and registered Georgia residents can participate in elections.
But voting rights groups say Georgians shouldn’t lose their right to vote just because they haven’t used it in recent years. It’s more important to guarantee voting access than to limit it for fear of fraud, they say.
ABSENTEE BALLOT REJECTIONS
Election officials have rejected 3,983 mailed-in absentee ballots through Wednesday, especially in Gwinnett County, in many cases because voters’ signatures allegedly didn’t match signatures on file. Of those rejected ballots, 1,519 were in Gwinnett.
A federal judge issued an injunction last month ordering election officials not to reject absentee ballots because of alleged signature mismatches. Instead, those mailed ballots should be marked as provisional and voters should be given an opportunity to resolve the discrepancy, the judge said.
More than 165,000 people had voted by mail through Wednesday, while nearly 1.5 million more had voted in-person at early-voting sites across the state.
Georgia is one of 34 states that have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Before voting in person at Georgia early-voting locations or Election Day precincts, voters must show an accepted form of photo identification that can be matched to their voter registration information.
Six kinds of photo ID are accepted in Georgia: a state driver’s license, a state or federal ID card, a valid employee ID from any government agency, a U.S. passport, a U.S. military ID or a tribal photo ID.
Supporters of identification laws say the requirements prevent voter impersonation, but opponents say such laws make it harder for the poor to vote if they don’t have a driver’s license or other government-issued ID card.
EXACT MATCH LAW
Nearly 47,000 voter registration applications are on hold because the government wasn’t able to verify their citizenship, name spelling, address, birth date or Social Security number.
Under Georgia’s “exact match” law passed last year, voter registration application information must match driver’s license and Social Security records.
The “exact match” program has delayed some voter registrations for hyphenated names, nicknames and typos. It has also caught some applications that are clearly fraudulent, such as those filed with the name of “Jesus Christ.”
A lawsuit pending in federal court seeks to ensure that new U.S. citizens who have been flagged by the “exact match” system can vote in next week’s election. Voting rights groups say many newly naturalized Americans have registered to vote but are being turned away at early-voting locations because their citizenship status hasn’t been updated in government computers.
There are at least 3,667 pending voter registration applications from people whose citizenship couldn’t be verified by state driver’s license records.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT VOTING PROBLEMS
The best way to ensure your vote is counted is to check your registration before you head to the polls.
Your registration information and a sample ballot are available only at the state’s My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov. If you’re able to log in with your name, county and birth date, you’re registered to vote at your neighborhood precinct.
If you can’t find your registration information but think you should be registered, contact your county election office for more information. Phone numbers and addresses of local election offices are available online at elections.sos.ga.gov/Elections/countyregistrars.do.
Voters whose registrations are pending verification can often resolve any issues when they go to vote by showing photo ID. For new U.S. citizens, they might need to bring their naturalization certificates or a U.S. passport.
For those whose information couldn’t be verified, they can fill out a provisional ballot. Voters have three days after the election to verify their information and have their provisional ballots counted.
You can also bring your complaints to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and we’ll try to find out more. The AJC is participating in Electionland, a ProPublica project that will cover access to the ballot and problems that prevent people from exercising their right to vote during the 2018 election.
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