ATLANTA - As state leaders look for ways to slash their budgets in the wake of the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger finds one line item in his budget particularly troubling.
According to the Secretary of State's Office, they currently pay $36,000 per month, which adds up to $432,000 per year, to warehouse the state's now retired electronic voting machines.
"I'm tired of it and I'm fed up and I think taxpayers should be fed up," Sec. Raffensperger said Friday.
The old hardware lies at the center of an ongoing legal battle between the state and several voting and election transparency groups, who sued claiming the machines, and thus Georgians' votes, were not secure.
In an order last November, a United States District Court judge directed the state to "preserve all GEMS servers, DREs, memory cards, AccuVote scanners, and Express Poll books until further order of the Court in the event a forensic examination is deemed necessary at some point for purposes of this litigation."
Meanwhile, the state had already purchased and started the rollout of an updated touchscreen voting system in time for the presidential primary, which prior to the coronavirus pandemic had been scheduled for March 24.
"So now we're spending nearly half a million dollars a year," explained Raffensperger. "You think about what that does, that's 10% of our elections budget that we're spending on storage fees for something that's never going to be used again."
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Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, said holding onto the machines is necessary. She is an advocate for hand-marked paper ballots and issued a statement to FOX 5 about the budget issue:
"Secretary Raffensperger has prematurely sought the Court’s permission for the destruction of the old voting machines and the electronic records on them. Federal and state law requires that all electronic records be preserved for 2 years after an election. That includes the electronic records stored on the machines’ hard drives. Given that the machines were last used in December 2019, federal and state law would not permit destruction until December 2021. The only copies of these electronic election records to be preserved exist on the hard drives of the voting machines.
"The Secretary seems to be attempting to again destroy electronic records while they still contain important evidence, long before the law would permit the destruction of election records.
"In recent months, with a budget crisis looming, the Secretary wasted over $110 million on an outdated, un-auditable, defective voting system, when he could have spent 30% of that amount and purchased the gold standard of election equipment. If his budget is stressed, then he should send the defective new system back for a $75 million refund."
Officials with the Secretary of State's Office said they are working to find ways to cut their budget by the 14% requested, but do not plan to touch elections funding. Instead, they said a large portion of the cuts will likely come from the licensing division, which Sec. Raffensperger announced a plan to streamline earlier this week.