Georgia Senate committee approves voting machine bill

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Georgia is another step closer to updating its voting system.

The Senate Ethics Committee voted along party lines Wednesday morning and approved House Bill 316. Under the legislation, the state would have to purchase "ballot marking devices," which are touchscreen machines that print out paper ballot receipts that voters can use to verify their selections.

"I feel very confident that it is a bill that puts our voters first and will bring Georgia into the 21st century," said state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, the bill's primary sponsor.

Democrats and some experts, however, believe the state would be better served using hand-marked paper ballots, both for security and cost. 

But former Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox testified in front of the committee that hand-marked ballots can cause a litany of problems.  She reviewed the problems associated with the 2000 presidential election and said that in the 60 Georgia counties that used hand ballots and optical scanners, the error rate was much higher than in other areas because voters failed to properly fill in the bubbles for the candidates of their choice.  

"When you hand-mark a ballot you really don't have an opportunity to know whether your mark is going to get the job done," said Cox. 

That was nearly two decades ago and supporters of moving back to hand-marked paper ballots said the technology has grown by leaps and bounds.  

"The technology has changed dramatically and that's what we tried to get across," said Garland Favorito of "Today's scanners will catch a lot of the overvotes and they can even catch undervotes if you set them up to do that.  So, while her testimony may have been correct,  it's not applicable to today."

The bill must now go to the full Senate for a vote.