A polling-place worker holds an "I'm a Georgia Voter" sticker during the primary election on June 9, 2020 in Atlanta.
Enlarge / A polling-place employee holds an “I am a Georgia Voter” sticker through the major election on June 9, 2020 in Atlanta.

A federal choose in Georgia has ordered election officers to print paper backups of voter knowledge in order that voting can proceed even when the digital system for checking in voters fails. It is a win for plaintiffs who’ve argued that flaws in Georgia’s electronic-poll-book (EPB) system hampered voting within the June major and will achieve this once more in November.

During the last 20 years, plenty of dialogue has revolved across the threat that digital voting machines pose to the safety and integrity of elections. However there was much less consideration paid to digital ballot books—one other digital system that may undermine election integrity in the event that they malfunction.

Pollworkers use EPBs to confirm a voter’s eligibility after which verify the voter in. Malfunctions in these methods can decelerate the voting course of a lot that some folks surrender voting altogether. By concentrating on precincts the place most individuals vote for a specific candidate or social gathering, a hacker may doubtlessly swing an in depth election simply by triggering malfunctions in digital ballot books. And whereas voting machines are purported to be stored off the Web, digital ballot books are sometimes on-line all through election day.

There isn’t any proof that anybody has intentionally exploited this potential vulnerability in American elections, and possibly nobody ever will. However at a minimal, digital ballot books make American elections extra complicated and brittle. It is attainable that, as with voting machines, the previous paper system was truly a more sensible choice.

Georgia’s digital ballot books brought on issues

Georgia has lengthy been a battleground within the debate over digital voting know-how. Till final 12 months, Georgia used historic paperless voting machines that did not permit for a significant post-election audit. Final 12 months, US District Decide Amy Totenberg ordered the state to modify to a system of paper ballots. Within the new system Georgia launched this 12 months, voters enter votes on a touchscreen ballot-marking machine that then prints out a paper poll.

This 12 months, together with the ballot-marking machines, the Peach State additionally launched a brand new electronic-poll-book system. The KnowInk Ballot Pad is an iPad operating customized software program that pollworkers use to confirm voter eligibility and verify voters in.

Issues with these machines aren’t only a theoretical concern. In her Monday ruling—a part of the identical case that pressured an finish to paperless voting final 12 months—Decide Totenberg factors to quite a few examples when EPB glitches created hour-long delays throughout Georgia’s chaotic June 9 major

One ballot watcher visited a voting location on the Central Park Recreation Heart within the Atlanta space. She reported that “the wait time to vote at 10:00 a.m. was estimated at 4 hours. Voting was virtually at a whole standstill on account of inoperable digital ballot books.” Unable to confirm voters’ eligibility, election staff requested voters fill out provisional ballots, which dramatically slowed down the voting course of.

A voter in DeKalb County, additionally within the Atlanta space, reported that “two PollPads had been down and nobody had voted after ready for an hour after polls ought to have opened.” On the Dunwoody Library in DeKalb County, “voters had been ready over an hour” and “voters weren’t being checked in as a result of the PollPad gear was down.”

There isn’t any proof that these machines had been hacked. By all indications, the issues with EPBs within the major had extra mundane causes like software program bugs, networking issues, or insufficient coaching of pollworkers. However whatever the trigger, the issues with the EPB possible prevented some voters from casting a vote. And Decide Totenberg concluded that that was an enormous drawback.

Digital ballot books want paper backups

To assist forestall the repeat of those issues in November, plaintiffs requested Decide Totenberg to order that each precinct have a paper copy of poll-book knowledge. Precinct officers had been already slated to have printouts of voter-registration knowledge, however these printouts lacked up-to-date details about who had already solid early votes or requested absentee ballots. Pollworkers want this info to resolve whether or not a voter can solid a poll. Plaintiffs needed officers to print out a replica of this up-to-date knowledge within the temporary window between the final day of early voting and Election Day.

Georgia officers argued that it will be too burdensome to print out this knowledge for each precinct. However they’d few good arguments in opposition to making the info obtainable on-line for native officers to print out themselves. So that is what Decide Totenberg ordered.

Georgia is not the one jurisdiction that has suffered EPB issues. Voters in Los Angeles skilled lengthy traces through the March major election in California, and a subsequent investigation pointed to issues with new digital ballot books as a serious wrongdoer. In 2018, issues with EPBs brought on issues in South Dakota, Philadelphia, and Indiana’s Johnson County.

So it will be sensible for any jurisdiction counting on electronic-poll-book software program—and there is plenty of them—to verify to have a paper backup readily available at each polling location.


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