Fraud-rich paper ballots or susceptible electronic machines? Decision coming soon. 

 

If you think voting and having each vote accurately counted is important, you will want to pay close attention to Federal District Judge Amy Totenberg's upcoming ruling.

Wednesday in federal court revealed sobering lessons in our democracy and its protections.

First Judge Totenberg is absolutely clear that changing times in computer protection from bad actors require concerned attention to voter security.

Second, she fears returning to paper ballots will seriously suppress voter participation in Georgia's upcoming elections.

Third, Judge Totenberg sounds just like her famous sister Nina from National Public Radio, and wears a great scarf over her robe.

So, while the benches were hard and the testimony from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. was uncomfortable, the outcome seems critical to trust in the fair outcome of our elections.

Concerned voters fought the state of Georgia and Fulton County over these critically important election issues. Their lawyers did a splendid job for hours, presenting overwhelming evidence of the possibility of interference with today's sadly outdated touch screen machines.

Defense lawyers for Georgia and Fulton County confirmed the absence of any evidence of election tampering. Some of the Secretary of State's witnesses seemed to me equally out of touch with the gravity of the security issues presented by lack of public investment in more secure systems.

And witnesses differed about exactly what a hacking attempt gained from a state contract with under-secured computers at Kennesaw State University.

The aging computers which record Georgia votes have not changed since former Secretary of State Cathy Cox installed them in 2002. Remember why? Before then, every Georgia county ran its own elections with paper ballots.

"Georgia has a rich and tawdry history of creative fraud," she recalled.

Paper ballots were frequently the source of the problems.

She gave clarifying examples, like the entire Georgia county east of Atlanta providing the wrong pen to voters. The result? Every ballot had to be hand-read and re-inked under watchful eyes.

After the Gore-Bush Presidential Election in 2000 startled the nation with voting challenges, Georgia's state legislature demanded a single statewide system of voting machines.

Cox testified that Georgia was the first state in the nation to do so and bought the best system available. But no system was able to provide a paper trail at the time.

Judge Totenberg leaned forward and directly asked her... "Did you foresee a constant need for change?"

"Absolutely," Cox answered.

But nothing changed in Georgia's method of voting. Despite light years of advance since 2002 in hard and soft ware and computer security, Georgians still vote as we did in 2002.

The plaintiffs in this injunction ask Judge Totenberg to order the state to deny the use of any voting machine in the upcoming election. Early voting on those very machines is set to begin October 15.

If she agrees, paper ballots will be the only way anyone can vote.

The result?

"Chaotic beyond belief and a set - up for massive amounts of voter error," testified Cox. Other witnesses agreed the tight time frame forces problems with creating and distributing ballots teaching voters a new system, and a nationwide shortage of outdated ballot scanners.

Fulton County's election chief testified that if all voters are forced to use paper ballots the results could not be counted and the vote confirmed until Monday after the polls close the prior Tuesday.

At the end of the long day, an exhausted Judge Totenberg called the situation a Catch 22, and a Parade of Horribles.

She pointed out the state legislature could have dealt with this, and did not. She said she did not find the possibility of fraud merely theoretical.

She warned that calling the fears of electronic tampering "paranoia" is no way to deal with obvious problems in Georgia's system. And she promised a ruling by Friday or Monday at the latest.

In time for the losing side to file an emergency appeal to the 11th Circuit.

Copyright 2018 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

Investigative Reporter

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