Georgia confident about election security despite stream of questions


The email popped into Georgia Elections Director Chris Harvey’s in-box one Monday morning in August, with four sparse lines punctuated by a smiley face and a YouTube link.

“I know you have been asked,” Columbia County Elections Director Nancy Gay wrote of the video, which poll workers, the public and elections officials alike had shared over fears it meant trouble for the November election. “I would love to know your response.”

A steady stream of questions about the security of the state’s voting systems has come to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office over the past two months, according to a review of records by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

That includes the video shared by Gay on Aug. 22, just days after the FBI’s cyber division warned states that it was investigating incidents related to elections data systems in two states believed to be Arizona and Illinois.

The video shows a snippet from a 2006 documentary called “Hacking Democracy.” In it, a hacker is able to access a voting machine similar to some of those used in Georgia and alter its results. Five days earlier, Cherokee County Elections Director Kim Stancil had sent Harvey the same link.

“Just wanted you to see what some of our poll workers are sending to us,” she told him. “Should we respond at all … what would you like us to say?”

Ballot security has become one of the hottest topics in this presidential election year, stoked by GOP nominee Donald Trump’s claim that he needed his own poll monitors to prevent a “rigged” election in November. The FBI’s announcement came days after Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson hosted a call with elections officials from across the nation about cybersecurity and election infrastructure.

While Georgia officials have sought to assure voters about the measures they have taken to minimize any threat, it’s clearly a worry for some Georgians.

“I’m writing to express my concern about Georgia’s continued use of electronic machines that lack a paper backup,” Decatur resident Jacob Selwood wrote in an Aug. 7 email. “We are one of only five states that still do this. A recent article in Politico pointed to how easy it is to hack the machines that we use, and without a backup paper trail there is no way to tell if that has happened.”

Many of the questions were forwarded to Merle King, the executive director of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University. The center since 2002 has overseen the state’s election operations and voting machines, a job that has spanned three secretaries of state from two political parties.

“Bad science and bad theatre,” King wrote in response to the hacking video, which he said the state had reviewed when it was first released 10 years ago.

In another email, he gave a point-by-point response detailing how the hack was done and which security features in Georgia would prevent it — including physical security features involving the machines themselves and software features that would come into play.

He also hit back over concerns about Georgia’s use of direct-recording electronic voting machines, or DREs, which are known by voters for their touch screens. While the machines do not include a paper trail of recorded votes — something many experts recommend as a safeguard — King said every ballot cast on a DRE can generate “a paper instantiation of the digital ballot.”

“The paper copies could be scanned on a digital scanner or hand counted, if need be,” he wrote, adding that Georgia stood at a 99 percent readiness level ahead of the election. “When activists claim there is not (an) audit trail, that is hyperbole. We have multiple methods of auditing the results of an election.”


Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Georgia Politics

With Atlanta mayor vote, a fabled bipartisan alliance comes to an end
With Atlanta mayor vote, a fabled bipartisan alliance comes to an end

The Republican governor and Democratic mayor shared the stage — and shared plenty of credit — at the opening of Mercedes-Benz Stadium a few months ago. The sense of relief was close to palpable. “I’ll tell you, I sure am happy now. It’s certainly one of the happiest days I’ve been on this job,” said the mayor...
Mayor Reed puts airport exec on leave amid concerns over contracts
Mayor Reed puts airport exec on leave amid concerns over contracts

A high-ranking official at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has been placed on administrative leave after the mayor’s office learned that his wife is doing business with an airport subcontractor. A spokeswoman for Mayor Kasim Reed said Friday that the action was taken against Cortez Carter, deputy general manager at the airport, whose...
The Week: Blank says kneeling should not be seen as disrespect
The Week: Blank says kneeling should not be seen as disrespect

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank offered his own interpretation of protests NFL players have staged this season by kneeling during the national anthem. “It’s very clear that the players have no interest whatsoever in being disrespectful to the flag or the anthem,” Blank told GPB’s Ricky Bevington this past week. &ldquo...
Dunwoody man goes from battling brain cancer to DNR hunting consultant
Dunwoody man goes from battling brain cancer to DNR hunting consultant

When Chip Madren was in seventh grade, doctors told his family the type of brain cancer he had gave him about two more years to live. It was his love of hunting that caused him to fight for his life, his mother said, after being promised a trip to Montana when he got better. “He was not fighting well up until that time,” Lea Madren said...
Move for freer political speech divides Georgia’s religious community
Move for freer political speech divides Georgia’s religious community

It’s a regular ritual on Sundays before big votes: Candidates fan out to churches across the state, take prominent perches near the pulpit and receive warm applause from parishioners. And preachers inevitably shower them with kind words, though they stop short of much more lest they cross an invisible line. That’s exactly what happened...
More Stories