Politics & Government

Why Georgia’s secretary of state wants to see voting machine bill pass on Tuesday

Should Georgia switch to this voting system?

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger visited Columbus recently to discuss proposed changes to how Georgians would vote in the future, including replacing Georgia's current voting machines with ones providing an auditable paper trail.
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Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger visited Columbus recently to discuss proposed changes to how Georgians would vote in the future, including replacing Georgia's current voting machines with ones providing an auditable paper trail.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was in Columbus ahead of the General Assembly’s vote on House Bill 316, a piece of legislation that would overhaul the state’s 17-year-old voting system.

In an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer on Friday, Raffensperger said he sees the bill as a way to gain back voter trust after a contentious 2018 election process.

“When there’s an election ... we want the winner to know they truly did win but also the loser knows ‘yeah I really did lose, I thought I had it’ — no but nice try,” he said. “You won’t have that consternation or concern or belly-aching you could have after an election.”

The bill cleared the House Governmental Affairs Committee Feb. 21 and will head to the full state House for a vote Tuesday morning.

Counties across the state currently use an electronic voting system that requires voters to first place a card in the machine to load the ballot, tap their choices on a screen to cast the ballot and then hand the card in to an elections worker.

Raffensperger said voters in the new system will still load up their ballot using the provided card, but tapping names on the screen would not serve as the voter’s choice. Rather the choices would be printed onto a physical paper ballot, which is then read by an optical scanner and placed in a ballot box. If a voter notices a discrepancy in his electronic choices and the paper ballot, he can ask an elections worker to complete the voting process again.

Adding this step in the voting process creates a paper trail and allows for any possible recounting or audits needed following an election, which is a crucial need for the state, Raffensperger said.

If the bill is passed, the goal is to have the systems ready across the state for the fall 2020 elections at the latest. Raffensperger hopes to see it possibly instituted by the 2020 primary, which would allow election workers to test the system with a smaller number of voters as compared to the fall elections.

The state would provide the 30,000 new machines needed for its 159 counties. The machines would be replaced on a “one-to-one basis,” he said, at no cost to counties.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s draft budget for the year beginning in July sets aside to $150 million to buy new machines and help train poll workers.

Concern over possible voting machine hacking and inaccurate results during the 2018 elections caught the attention of national media. When asked if that level of attention prompted legislators to move faster on making changes, Raffensperger said changes were already on their minds.

“The governor’s race was fairly close, a 50,000 vote difference, and then someone lost and then someone just didn’t want to accept the outcome of the election,” he said. “Instead of accepting the outcome at the ballot box, what they want to do is litigate it they want to take it to the jury box.”

Democrats in the state House have so far broadly voted against House Bill 316 as it’s gone through the committee process. Leading Democrats are calling for hand-marked paper ballots instead, which they see as the option that’s most safe from the threat of electronic tampering.

“Obviously we’d love to have Democrat support on the bill and I think what’s happened is I think some people are trying to use this as a wedge issue and trying to spin things up,” Raffensperger said.

Raffensperger, a Republican, served from 2015-2018 in the General Assembly and is from Johns Creek, Ga. He won the secretary of state race after a runoff against his Democratic opponent John Barrow, 764,855 to 709,049.

His other goals while in office include implementing a system for business owners to renew their corporation status for up to three years and tweaking state code to allow military spouses more reciprocity in their professional licenses. Doing so would help them get to work in Georgia faster, Raffensperger said.

“We want people that move to Georgia to love it so much that they never want to leave,” he said.

Legislative writer Maggie Lee contributed to this report.

Deputy Editor Lauren Gorla has called Columbus home since May 2016 after graduating with a journalism degree from Georgia Southern University. In addition to managing the Ledger-Enquirer’s social media accounts, you can catch her hosting Order Up! with visual journalist, Robin Trimarchi.


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