Latest News

Do you want to vote on a touchscreen machine, hand-marked ballot or ‘ballot printer?’

Columbus residents line up to vote early in the 2018 midterm election.
Columbus residents line up to vote early in the 2018 midterm election. tchitwood@ledger-enquirer

Consider this: The next you go to vote in Georgia, you do it differently.

You check in with your photo ID, and fill out a form and sign your name, as usual, and the poll worker gives you a key or combination or code to put into a machine that shows you the ballot on a touchscreen, just like we use now, and you tap in your vote on that.

But it’s not a voting machine, because the machine does not record your vote.

It is a “ballot printer” that prints your ballot out so you can check it, before you feed it into an optical scanner that records your vote and stores the ballot in a lock box.

That’s roughly what Georgia’s SAFE Commission recommended last week, but it did not leave everyone feeling SAFE.

SAFE stands for Secure, Accessible and Fair Elections. The commission was formed last April when Brian Kemp was secretary of state, before he was elected governor amid a wide-ranging controversy over Georgia’s elections, from registration to balloting.

When it comes to balloting, people today don’t trust … much of anything, but they definitely don’t trust machines to decide who wins an election, without a paper trail.

That’s almost comical, in light of what else people trust machines for, when it comes to politics and social media. But voting has to be secure and vetted.

Muscogee County used hand-marked paper ballots before the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida. After that dispute over punch-hole ballots with hanging chads, people thought: “We just survived Y2K, and we’re still using punch-hole ballots? What is this, the 1980s?”

And it was: Suddenly George Bush was president again and soon Dick Cheney was going back to war with Saddam Hussein.

In 2000, Georgia had no uniform voting system. Counties chose what ballots to use.

The state switched to touchscreen machines statewide in 2002, when those devices at the time could not be hacked, easily, because they were not online.

Hacking has improved a lot since then, and some reports indicate a clever child could hack a Georgia voting machine today, were he or she old enough to vote, and no paper trail would show otherwise.

The SAFE Commission sought ways to establish a paper record without a big shift from how we vote now.

Most voters are accustomed to touchscreen machines that not only facilitate typing in whimsical write-in candidates, but help handicapped residents vote independently.

Another advantage to computerized voting is it digitizes the many “ballot styles” from which it programs the individual voter’s ballot. Handing out hard copy ballots increases the risk a poll worker will give a voter the wrong one.

Plus stockpiling all the different paper ballots needed for an election costs money, in printing, hauling, storing and disseminating, so going back to hand-marked ballots means more time, labor and expense. Counties have to guess how many ballots they need and bank extras so they don’t run out.

So, trying to strike a balance, the SAFE Commission recommended the ballot-printer system, in its report approved Thursday.

And the reaction was immediate:

“Today, the SAFE Commission provided a hasty recommendation that ignores expert opinion and grassroots will, all while providing little rationale to the public for their actions,” said Democrat Stacey Abrams, who after losing to Kemp may run for Senate.

Said the Democratic Party of Georgia: “Georgia voters should be outraged that Brian Kemp’s SAFE Commission chose to rush forward vendor-driven recommendations, rather than give Georgia’s election security the thoughtful evaluation and thorough investigation it deserves.”

The commission voted on deadline to get its report to the Georgia General Assembly before the legislature convenes Monday. The state wants changes in place before the 2020 election, to avoid further controversy and court challenges.

Any alterations to the current system will be pricey, and the legislature has to weigh who will pay, between the state and the counties.

The commission’s proceedings are online at the Georgia secretary of state’s website, www.sos.ga.gov.

Nancy Boren, Muscogee County’s elections director, was on the commission. She said that if adopted, the new system will be audited for accuracy.

Absent any specially called election, Muscogee County voters next go to the polls for the presidential preference primary in March 2020.

  Comments