Scores of early voters turn out Saturday in Georgia’s 6th District

Voters waited as long as an hour Saturday to cast ballots in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, continuing the early-voting surge that has kept local election officials busy ahead of the June 20 runoff between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff.

All three counties with areas in the suburban district — Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton — kept polling locations open as thousands took them up on the offer to get their votes in early. The planned voting day came hours after a Fulton County judge allowed voters to continue to cast ballots on electronic machines as she dismissed a lawsuit trying to force the state to switch to paper ballots.

Several voters said they felt comfortable with the machines and were not concerned that their votes would be tampered with.

“I don’t have any” concerns, Cathy Powers, a real estate broker from Sandy Springs, said as she walked in to a north Fulton voting center. She supported Handel. “I just think it’s a lot of huff and puff just to create news,” Powers said.

Some said they had general concerns but believed in the system enough to show up and vote.

“I just have to believe it will be fair,” said Debbie Minkin, an Ossoff supporter from east Cobb.

Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams’ ruling Friday night followed an eight-hour hearing midweek in a suit that complained that Georgia’s voting machines are too unreliable and vulnerable to malicious cyberattacks without a forensic review to verify they had not been compromised.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp celebrated Adams’ decision, which came two weeks into the state’s mandatory three-week early-voting period for the runoff.

“During my time as secretary of state, I have worked tirelessly to ensure security at the ballot box,” Kemp said. “When this group and Ivy League professors tried to disrupt the 6th District runoff, we fought them in court and won. I applaud the judge for finding what we already know: Our voting machines in Georgia are safe and accurate.”

Georgia uses touch-screen direct-recording electronic voting machines, or DREs. The state committed to the machines in 2002 when it last overhauled its elections system. At the same time, it eliminated a paper trail of recorded votes. Cybersecurity experts who testified at the hearing said one way Georgia could mitigate concerns about the machines is by having some sort of paper trail that voters could verify as being correct.

Adams, in her nine-page decision, did not specifically say the machines were safe or accurate, but after citing a number of legal factors, she said “in the absence of evidence” that the machines had widely malfunctioned or skewed results, “this court cannot adopt plaintiffs’ conclusion that Georgia’s DRE voting equipment and its related voting system are unsafe, inaccurate and impracticable within the meaning” of state law.

Marilyn Marks, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Foundation, a plaintiff in the suit, called paper ballots a “gold standard” for voter security.

“We are disappointed that in this short hearing there was insufficient opportunity to present the overwhelming evidence of alarmingly unsecured operations of Georgia’s voting system environment and its serious security vulnerabilities,” Marks said. “Secretary Kemp has seriously misrepresented the court’s findings — the court did not opine on the security or accuracy of the machines. The machines are not at all secure, so we plan to continue this fight.”

There is no evidence that the state’s system has been compromised. Georgia experienced no major problems during last year’s presidential election. State election officials have also said Georgia’s voting systems were not affected by the hacking attempts detailed earlier this week in a top-secret government report about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

State and local election officials testified that changing that system now would have brought chaos to the runoff. More than 75,000 people as of Friday morning had already voted using the machines, with no reported problems. Those counts will be updated by Monday to reflect the numbers who turned out Saturday.

“I thought it was important to get out to vote,” said Justina Moore, a stay-at-home mom from east Cobb who was voting for Ossoff. Ossoff, she said, represented “some kind of balance” to President Donald Trump, whom she viewed unfavorably. “When there’s people saying there’s no global warming and talk about pulling out of NATO, the fact that they won’t negotiate the climate issues with China is just scary when you have kids,” she said.

Karen Russell, a nurse, was waiting in the same hourlong line as Moore at the East Cobb Government Service Center. She, however, was voting for Handel and said she saw the Republican as part of the local community, unlike Ossoff, who lives outside the district, near Emory University.

“I just think we need some conservative representation in Washington to look after our interests, and I’m concerned if somebody doesn’t live in the district,” Russell said. “I think she’s got a history with Georgia and she knows what the issues are for us.”

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