Georgia Senate approves voting machine update

In a party-line vote, members of the Georgia Senate approved a bill to update the state's aging voting machines.

"This is going to do more to protect your vote than we have in the past," said State Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, who carried the legislation in the Senate.

Under House Bill 316, the state would purchase new electronic "ballot marking devices," which would allow a voter to make their selections on a touch screen.  The machine would then print out a vote summary, which the voter could review before handing it over to poll workers to scan and be counted.

"I think we're combining the best of both worlds," Ligon explained.  "We're combining technology with a paper record of the vote."

Democrats, however, did not support the measure.  They side with cybersecurity experts who testified before lawmakers that hand-marked paper ballots are the most secure option.  The minority party also expressed concerns about the potential cost of the machines because the bill did not include a fiscal note. 

"We shouldn't be voting on things with a major financial impact when we're not seeing a legal audit that tells us how much money it's going to cost," said Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain, who tried to delay the floor vote.

Next year's budget includes $150 million for upgraded voting machines, but some third-party estimates have put the cost much higher.

But Sen. Ligon said he does not believe that will be the case. 

"That's why we're going to be putting this out for competitive bid so that the Secretary of State can choose a system that is both cost-effective, but we want one that's reliable and secure," said Ligon.

The Senate made some changes to the bill, so the House of Representatives will have to review and approve the bill again before it goes to the governor's desk for his signature.