Secretary of State: There Is No “Paper-Ballot Fairy”

It has been a long hot summer in the war of the paper ballots in Georgia. The Secretary of State Brian Kemp is set to face off with plaintiffs on September 12th in oral arguments over a lawsuit accusing his office of inadequately addressing weaknesses in Georgia’s voting system.

The group of voting rights activists who filed suit in Curling v. Kemp requested a preliminary injunction to block the state’s use of 27,000 AccuVote TS and AccuVote TSX voting machines in the upcoming November elections. The idea is to switch to paper ballots for the midterms to avoid election tampering. Kemp’s office has now likened their use to fairies and magic wands. “There is no ‘paper-ballot fairy’ who, with a magic wand at the ready, can save plaintiffs’ half-baked ‘plans’ from devolving into a fiasco,” according to their response.

Kemp, who is also the state’s Republican gubernatorial candidate,  says the switch would cost more than $13.4 million and “lead to voter confusion, increased wait times, suppressed turnout and potential disenfranchisement.” However, there is no indication within the filing of where that $13.4 million calculation comes from.

Georgia is one of just five states to use insecure electronic voting machines with no paper backup. Georgia’s only record is absentee ballots which is precisely what the plaintiffs want for Georgia’s 6.7 million registered voters this year. They want paper absentee-style ballots and stacks of them at polling places on election day.

Contingency: Russia Roulette, a Handy Hacker, and a Professor’s Prophesy

Georgia has one of the most hacker-friendly voting systems in the country due to database and machine vulnerability. The secretary of state eschewed worry during the last presidential election, and yet Georgia’s name popped up on a list of targeted sites when the Justice Department recently unsealed an indictment against 12 Russian intelligence officers.

Georgia is one of just five states to use insecure electronic voting machines with no paper backup.
Lindsay France, IVN Business of Politics Editor

Around the same time that the Russians came snooping in 2016, a security researcher in Georgia named Logan Lamb breached the voter roll system and discovered voter information — at least 15 gigabytes worth — which included names, addresses, partial social security numbers, and much more available for download. After alerting state election authorities, he waited six months then went back in and found the same problem.

Internal emails show that the election center’s technology staff talked about “40+ critical vulnerabilities” in October 2016. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence publicly concluded that Georgia is one of a handful of states where hackers can alter and delete voter data.

But those are the systems — the storage. It is not proven that the machines were tampered with. However, the intent of bad actors is a clear and present danger, and there is nothing to stop them.

In a statement of support for the plaintiffs in Curling v. Kemp, J. Alex Halderman, professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan wrote that in effect, “these voting machines are computers with reprogrammable software. An attacker who can modify that software by infection the machines with malware can cause the machines to provide any results of the attackers choosing.”

Voting Machine Turned Pac Man

Also, Halderman made a nice little video on just how easy it is to manipulate this ‘reprogrammable software.’He even turned one into a Pac Man video game. Check it out:

But the secretary of state’s office maintains that:

“A theoretical possibility that a voting machine somewhere might be susceptible to tampering is outweighed by the state’s legitimate interest in protecting its elections from the mad scramble that would certainly ensue if the plaintiffs’ motions were granted.”

David Cross, the attorney handling the case, admits to being stunned by Kemp’s position.

“They are no longer defending the current system before the court; they implicitly acknowledge that it is unreliable,” he says. “They don’t address the election experts and the vulnerabilities in [the system]. They are asking voters across the state to vote in a state where they won’t know if that vote counts. And there is no way to know if there is a breach.”

States’ Rights

Most states do not want to be permanently under the umbrella of a nationwide election protection protocol controlled by the Department of Homeland Security because it would hand DHS unprecedented access to what is now a state, district, county, and precinct issue.

Secretary Kemp is now one of four secretaries of state appointed to DHS’s Election Infrastructure Cyber Security Working Group, which will offer insight into cybersecurity challenges and their voting infrastructure:

“It is incumbent on all of us to work together, collaborate, and maintain the highest standards for the elections process while also respecting our constitutionally mandated roles.”

CASH

As part of a new congressional spending bill, states are allocated a total of around $380 million to tighten security on voting systems. States must provide 5 percent in matching funds, and they have a span of five years to spend the money.

Georgia plans to spend half of its allotted $10.3 million on new voting machines. And while estimates vary, some point to a price tag of around $120 million for new voting machines which spit out a paper record.

None of this will be readied before the midterms. So, there are two choices: keep the system in place and while Georgia’s voters cross their fingers, or get the copy machines revved up and sharpen those pencils in preparation for an all paper ballot election. September is upon us.