Georgia tests new voting system before the ambitious 2020 change

ATLANTA: A handful of local elections in Georgia are being used to test new voting machines that combine touch screens with a printed ballot, part of the state's rush to meet a court-ordered deadline to withdraw its obsolete system without paper before casting any vote. 2020

State election officials are testing the $ 106 million system in six mostly rural counties that hold elections Tuesday for mayors, city councils and school boards. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger plans to use the new machines in the 159 counties for Georgia's presidential primaries in March.

The way in which Georgia will hold the elections next year will be closely watched nationally after officials faced a criticism in 2018. Problems include waiting for two hours at some voting sites, security breaches that left the Discovered voter registration information and accusations that strictly repressed participation led to demands and changes in state law that included changing electoral systems.

A federal judge in August increased the pressure for a new system. The judge of the United States District Court, Amy Totenberg, gave Georgia until January 1 to withdraw the electoral system in use since 2002, calling it severely flawed.

And although the new machines will create a paper record, it is likely that a positive test conducted on Tuesday will not satisfy the defenders of greater electoral integrity. They insist that the new system remains vulnerable and fails to deliver the auditable results they demand.

Even if everything goes well, that doesn't solve the problems, said Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Government.

Election officials in the six counties chosen to test the new machines said more than 9,300 voters had few problems during the three weeks of early voting before Tuesday’s election.

It has been much better than I thought it would be, said Rickey Kittle, president of the Catoosa County election board near the Tennessee line. `` When you change something, you always fear the worst. It just didn't happen. ''

The new machines work similarly to the old ones with voters making choices on touch screens.

But the new machines, unlike the old ones, print a paper ballot with a computer code and a list of votes cast. That impression is inserted into a scanner that reads the code and stores the votes electronically for tabulation. Impressions are retained in case an election must be audited later.

Those who are familiar with the system have already begun to evaluate it.

Some note that the typeface on the new printed ballots may be small for some eyes. Lowndes County, near the Georgia-Florida line, had magnifiers on hand for voters if necessary, said Tiffany Linkswiler, assistant election superintendent.

Linkswiler and Carol Heard, election supervisor for Decatur County in southwest Georgia, said some voters who conducted the final checks detected errors. The wrong ballots were canceled and new ones issued.

We had two damaged ballots, which shows me that at least two voters paid attention to their ballots after they printed them, Heard said. So it is a good sign. It means that there is that opportunity to correct mistakes.

But Marks said observers from the Coalition for Good Government saw many voters scan the ballots without bothering to verify their accuracy. If the computer generated ballots are issued without the voters reviewing them, he said, the audits are meaningless because `` you don't know what the voter intended. ''

Georgia defenders and individual voters who sued for the old state machines are now challenging the new ones in court. They have pending requests, asking the judge to stop the implementation of the new machines throughout the state.

That's why Cobb County in the suburbs Atlanta He is conducting a different test on Tuesday, using hand-marked paper ballots that are scanned electronically. That option is Georgia's backup plan for 2020 if the judge rules against the new machines.