Updated: Mar 15
After a hearing on March 11, The State Elections Board sanctioned the Clarke County Board of Election and ordered them to immediately resume using new state-mandated voting machines, despite voter concerns over voter privacy in light of the large font size and display on the machine monitors. On March 6, ConnectLocal reported that Athens/Clarke County Board of Elections voted to discontinue use of the state's new voting machines and use paper ballots manually filled in by voters.
In addition to the order to resume use of the new ballot-marking machines, several fines were levied against the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections. Full text of the Secretary of State's press release regarding the order is published below.
NOTE: Athens-Clarke County, along with all counties in Georgia, have been ordered to suspend early voting in the Presidential Preferential Primary due to concerns over COVID-19. See ConnectLocal's story on the order, issued by the Georgia Secretary of State.
ORIGINAL STORY: By Thursday afternoon, only 350 people had cast ballots in Stephens County early voting for the Presidential Preference Primary, and in nearby Athens-Clarke County, the Board of Elections suspends use of the new machines due to privacy concerns.
Early voting in Georgia’s Presidential Preference Primary began Monday, and will continue, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, until Friday, March 20. Early voting will also be held on Saturday, March 14, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
All early voting takes place in the courtroom on the second floor of the Historic Courthouse in downtown Toccoa. The entrance for voting is to the left of the main courthouse doors, which face W. Tugalo Street; the main courthouse doors will remain locked.
As of Thursday afternoon, March 5, at approximately 4 p.m., a total of 353 voters had cast ballots at early voting in Stephens County. At that time, absentee ballots already received by the elections office accounted for close to another 300 ballots, according to elections office personnel. This afternoon, Stephens County Chief Registrar Eureka Grober declined to provide ConnectLocal.News updated figures for both early voting and absentee voting.
“I am excited to hear that Georgians like our new system and are confident in the paper ballot process,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Wednesday. “Georgia's new secure and reliable paper-ballot system has helped expand voting access to all Georgians, and to those with disabilities in particular.” The Georgia Secretary of State’s website states that more than 64,000 people in Georgia cast ballots in the first three days of early voting.
However, several organizations continue to question the security and privacy of the new voting machines, Earlier this week, the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections voted 3-2 to suspend use of the new machines after two days of the early voting period. Early voting in Athens-Clarke County will continue using paper ballots marked by hand.
According to a statement released by board chairman Jesse Evan, the decision was made due to concerns that the selections made on the new voting machine touchscreens could be seen by other people in the room, both those waiting to vote, and elections officials.
Prior to the start of early voting Monday, several election integrity advocate groups had filed statements and complaints about the fact that the large fonts used on the large touchscreens make it easy to see how people are voting, even from some distance away.Concerns about the use of scanner during the initial steps of voting have also been expressed in complaints lodged with the Secretary of States office regarding the new machines. According to state-mandated procedure, a voter's identification is scanned when they check in to vote, and the machine which scans the ID is connected to the machine which prints out the card that the voter inserts into the voting machine.
"There is no way you can guarantee me that my id is not being recorded on that card, and then recorded in the barcode that records my vote," one complainant said. "Why else would they need to scan my ID when it's always been good enough just to show it to them, before?"
Charlotte Sosebee, Athens-Clarke County’s elections supervisor, on Tuesday, prior to the vote to suspend use of the machines, stated “We can turn the machines around so that the back of the ballot-marking devices is what the voters will see” (while waiting in line to cast their own ballots). It is unknown if that plan was enacted prior to the board’s vote.
According to HB 3, which mandated the statewide use of the new machines, the only time that officials can choose to use another method of voting, other than the new machines, is if “county election officials determine that using electronic machines becomes “impossible or impracticable.” Georgia’s State Election Board will hold a hearing to determine if the ACC Board of Elections violated state law by deciding to not use the state’s new electronic voting system, according to a notice sent to the local board by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger Thursday.
In Sumpter County, the Coalition for Good Governance requested that Sumpter county suspend use of the new voting machines, but Superior Court Judge Rucker Smith ruled Monday that the Coalition failed to prove it will be “impossible or impracticable” for Sumter County election officials to arrange voting machines “in a manner that protects the secrecy of the ballot while allowing sufficient monitoring.”
Federal Regulation 452.97 Secret ballot.
(a) A prime requisite of elections regulated by title IV is that they be held by secret ballot among the members or in appropriate cases by representatives who themselves have been elected by secret ballot among the members. A secret ballot under the Act is “the expression by ballot, voting machine, or otherwise, but in no event by proxy, of a choice * * * cast in such a manner that the person expressing such choice cannot be identified with the choice expressed.” 47 Secrecy may be assured by the use of voting machines, or, if paper ballots are used, by providing voting booths, partitions, or other physical arrangements permitting privacy for the voter while he is marking his ballot. The ballot must not contain any markings which upon examination would enable one to identify it with the voter. Balloting by mail presents special problems in assuring secrecy. Although no particular method of assuring such secrecy is prescribed, secrecy may be assured by the use of a double envelope system for return of the voted ballots with the necessary voter identification appearing only on the outer envelope.
FULL TEXT OF PRESS RELEASE ANNOUNCING ORDER FOR ATHENS-CLARKE COUNTY TO RESUME USE OF MACHINES:
(ATHENS) – The State Elections Board sanctioned the Clarke County Board of Elections after a hearing Wednesday for violating Georgia law requiring uniform voting.
The county board voted 3-2 last week to use hand-marked ballots instead of the ballot-marking machines specified in state law. The law allows use of hand-marked ballots only as a backup measure when a power outage, weather disaster or other unforeseen circumstances makes using the machines “impossible or impracticable.”
After hearing testimony from the State Elections Director, investigators with the Secretary of State’s Office, Clarke County election officials, and the Chairman of the Clarke County Board of Elections, the State Elections Board voted unanimously to order the Clarke County Board of Elections to immediately resume using the new paper-ballot voting machines. The state board also voted to require the Clarke board to pay $2,500 to cover the cost of investigation. Finally, the state board imposed a fine of $5,000 per day until the county resumes using the voting machines. The fine could have been as much as $5,000 for each of the more than 1,000 votes cast on hand-marked ballots. The fine will waive if Clarke County election officials certify to the Secretary of State’s office that they have resumed the use of the state mandated equipment.
“The General Assembly determined that every Georgia voter, no matter which county they live in, will vote on the same system, and after accepting the recommendations of the SAFE Commission and holding public hearings, the General Assembly decided that every voter would use a touchscreen ballot-marking device and a paper ballot,” said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, chairman of the State Elections Board. “Today’s decision makes clear to all counties that they must follow state law and ensure that every vote in this state is cast the same way.”
State law says that “the equipment used for casting and counting votes in county, state, and federal elections shall be the same in each county in this state and shall be provided to each county by the state, as determined by the Secretary of State.”
The Clarke board members argued that the screens on Georgia’s new voting devices were so large that voters’ privacy would be compromised and that the only solution was to issue hand-marked ballots. The Secretary of State’s Office had offered recommendations on ways to maintain privacy to the counties, which run the actual elections.
Just days before the Clarke board’s vote, a Sumter County Superior Court judge ruled that counties had ways to shield the view of the screens without resorting to hand-marked ballots.
The Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections Commission (SAFE) was formed in 2018 from a bipartisan group of legislators, local election officials, election lawyers and other election experts. It traveled the state soliciting feedback from voters, voting-rights advocates, election officials, cybersecurity experts, accessibility experts, and former Secretary of State Cathy Cox, who led the state through a statewide implementation of Georgia’s original unified voting system in 2002.
In a report issued January 10, 2019, the SAFE Commission recommended that, given the state’s successful history with touchscreen voting, Georgia should keep the touchscreen aspect of voting but add a secure paper ballot and an audit of those paper ballots. The General Assembly agreed, after holding its own hearings, and a bipartisan majority specified the touchscreen ballot-marking system.