Republican secretary of state candidates debate Georgia’s voting system

All four Republican candidates for Georgia secretary of state said Monday they want to replace the state’s electronic voting machines with a system that creates a paper record for verification.

But none of them ruled out using computers to print ballots, a voting method opposed by several election integrity groups that say it’s unsafe. Those groups prefer hand-marked paper ballots.

The Republican candidates debated Monday at Lassiter High School in Marietta. They’re competing in the May 22 Republican primary election, with the winner advancing to the Nov. 6 general election against Democratic and Libertarian candidates.

Georgia’s next secretary of state will likely be responsible for overseeing the state’s purchase of a replacement voting system, which will cost tens of millions of dollars. 

Legislation that would have changed the state's electronic voting system, Senate Bill 403didn't pass during this year's legislative session, delaying the transition until next year.

Two candidates, Sen. Josh McKoon and Rep. Buzz Brockway, said the state should evaluate which voting system is best. They didn’t commit to any specific election technology during the debate hosted by the Georgia Republican Party’s 6th District.

Two other candidates, former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Island and Rep. Brad Raffensperger, said they prefer touchscreen machines that print voters’ choices before recording them.

“We need a paper trail as part of whatever system we migrate to that can be independently audited and verified,” said McKoon, R-Columbus.

Brockway, R-Lawrenceville, said he won’t pre-judge which system works best for the state: either ballot printing machines or pen-and-paper ballots.

“Folks are losing trust in the electoral system,” Brockway said. “Most of the country votes differently than we do. They allow hand-marked paper ballots to be issued. We don’t do that in Georgia.”

Georgia is one of the last five states to rely entirely on electronic voting machines that lack an independent paper backup.

If state legislators decide to replace the state’s election system next year, they would also have to fund it. A primarily paper-based system would cost $35 million or more, while a touchscreen-and-paper system could cost well over $100 million.

Belle Isle said he prefers using a touchscreen machine to print voters’ choices on a paper card.

“When you hit ‘cast ballot,’ it would actually print your ballot onto that card stock,” he said. “It would make a photograph or scan of that physical ballot, but it would also store that physical ballot.”

Raffensperger, R-Johns Creek, said he supports the same kind of hybrid electronic-and-paper system that was tested in Conyers last November.

“My No. 1 job is voter protection. Your priceless franchise should never be taken from you,” he said.

All candidates said they opposed using paper ballots with bar codes for computer tabulation, which are used with the touchscreen-type systems.

In the Democratic Party primary for secretary of state, the candidates are former U.S. Rep. John Barrow, former Rockdale County Tax Commissioner RJ Hadley and former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler.

The Libertarian Party candidate is Smythe Duval, who works in the medical technology field.

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