Election board rejects use of hand-marked ballots in Georgia

Georgians will continue to cast their ballots by touchscreens at their polling places, the State Election Board unanimously voted on Tuesday.

Election integrity activists began raising concerns over Georgia’s current touchscreen voting machines saying the large, bright, vertical touchscreens allow other people in the room to see a voter’s selections in violation of ballot secrecy provisions in state law.

Under Georgia law, one of the requirements for use of electronic ballot markers is that it "Permit voting in absolute secrecy so that no person can see or know any other elector’s votes, except when he or she has assisted the elector in voting, as prescribed by law."

The Coalition for Good Governance filed a lawsuit against the state about it, prompting the board to review the process.

Tuesday, board members rejected allowing Georgians to use a ballot filled out by hand instead of the machines.

The lawsuit stated layouts for the voting machines are problematic because they don’t completely protect ballots from the view of poll workers and other voters and don’t allow poll workers to see the machines to prevent tampering as required by law.

The group argues hand-marked paper ballots are already used for mail-in and provisional voting, so election officials already have the training and supplies to switch to that method for all voters, the petition argues.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office Division of Elections soon after sent guidance for local elections officials as to how the machines should be arranged on Election Day.

This is not the first legal action filed by the coalition seeking to force Georgia election officials to use hand-marked paper ballots. The group filed a federal lawsuit in 2017 alleging the old machines and election management system were not secure and were vulnerable to hacking. The focus of that legal action has now shifted to the new system and remains pending.

The group argues the new system has many of the same security vulnerabilities as the old system. Additionally, the ballots printed by the new machines include a human-readable summary and a bar code that is read by the scanner to tally the votes, but voters can’t read the bar code and can’t be sure it accurately reflects their selections, the group says.

The Associated Press contributed to this report