A group of 20 computer scientists and security experts called on Georgia to overhaul its elections system and begin using a system with a paper audit trail, saying it would assure accuracy and public confidence following an alleged breach of confidential data that could affect millions of Georgia voter records.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the group acknowledged that the breach is now under federal investigation and that much is still unknown. But, it said, potential findings “could have dire security consequences for the integrity of the technology and all elections carried out in Georgia” depending on their severity.
“While we understand that this investigation is ongoing and that it will take time for the full picture to emerge, we request that you be as forthcoming and transparent as possible regarding critical information about the breach and the investigation, as such leadership not only will be respected in Georgia but also emulated in other states where such a breach could occur,” the group said.
Most members of the group are involved with the voting-accuracy organization Verified Voting.
A spokeswoman for Kemp referred questions to federal officials and said the office was also waiting for resolution. Federal officials have had no new updates as the investigation continues.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation launched the inquiry into the suspected cyberattack two weeks ago at the request of state officials after staff discovered records kept by the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University may have been compromised.
The center has since 2002 overseen the state’s election operations and voting machines. It does that work through an agreement with the Secretary of State’s Office. It does not, however, maintain live databases or the state’s official voter registration database.
The letter came as Kemp, the state’s top elections official, will hold a nationally watched special election April 18 to replace former U.S. Rep. Tom Price. Preparations for that election are operating as normal, including an expectation that the state will be able to use its usual supply of “direct-recording electronic” voting machines, or DREs, known by voters for their touch screens.
The state committed to the machines in 2002 when it last overhauled its elections. At the same time, it also eliminated a paper trail of recorded votes.
At least one signer of the letter, Barbara Simons, suggested Tuesday in an interview that the state should consider replacing the machines at least on a temporary basis with paper ballots since officials don’t know whether any of the center’s systems being used to plan the special election may have been compromised.
Ultimately, however, she said the machines should be replaced permanently.
Simons, who is retired from IBM Research and was formerly president of the Association for Computing Machinery, is an electronic voting expert who has questioned the use of machines such as DREs as outdated and unsecured. She said the group was acting independently of political organizations and viewed the issue as a nonpartisan one. It reached out to Kemp, she said, to offer help moving forward.
The group suggested that Georgia conduct manual audits of election results. And it encouraged Kemp to reach out to voters eligible to cast ballots in the special election to tell them how they can confirm their information on state voter rolls. The state offers registered voters online access to do that via the Secretary of State’s Office’s website (www.sos.ga.gov).
State Democrats earlier this week criticized Kemp for disclosing few details about the cyberattack. Other groups, including Common Cause Georgia, have also called for using paper ballots in the upcoming special election.