Lawsuit seeks to void 6th District runoff over aging voting system

Karen Handel’s win in the hotly contested 6th Congressional District special election should be thrown out and the contest redone, according to a new lawsuit seeking to ultimately invalidate Georgia’s aging electronic voting system.

The suit, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, is the second pursued in less than two months by a Colorado-based group over the security of Georgia’s election infrastructure.

The suit says those concerns include private cybersecurity researcher Logan Lamb’s finding last year that a misconfigured server at Kennesaw State University’s Center for Election Systems — which has helped run Georgia’s elections for the past 15 years — exposed more than 6.5 million voter records and other sensitive information that opponents said could be used to alter results.

The same records were accessed a second time earlier this year by another security researcher. The FBI investigated both Lamb’s and the second researcher’s probing but did not file charges, saying neither of the two had broken federal law.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office declined to comment Wednesday because it had not yet seen the suit. Named as defendants in the suit are Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and numerous election officials from Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties — all of which have communities that fall within the 6th District’s boundaries.

Marilyn Marks, who as executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance brought the suit with several Georgia voters, said the incidents at the center show Georgia’s system is “completely vulnerable and unreliable and should not have been used for this election.”

The effort dovetails with a push by national voting advocates for Georgia to commit to new election systems with the capability of producing a paper audit trail — something the state does not currently have.

The group, in the suit, is asking that results from the June 20 runoff in the 6th District be voided, that the state’s 27,000 electronic voting machines not be used in the next election and that Kemp be required to promptly re-examine the system. Such a technical review would check for cyber penetration and add preventive measures to protect against both malicious attacks and unintended problems.

A Fulton judge in June dismissed a lawsuit by the same group — formerly called the Rocky Mountain Foundation — that tried to force the use of paper ballots in the 6th District runoff. The ruling cited the state’s sovereign immunity law, which says the state is immune from lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of statutes passed by the General Assembly.

Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams also cited an “absence of evidence” that the machines had widely malfunctioned or skewed results.

The suit this week also acknowledges “it is presently unknown if any party interfered with Georgia’s elections in 2016 or 2017.”

There is no evidence that the state’s system has been compromised. Georgia experienced no major problems during last year’s presidential election or during the 6th District special election. State election officials have also said Georgia’s voting systems were not affected by the hacking attempts detailed last month in a top-secret federal government report about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The issue, however, remains a national topic, most recently with requests for voter data by President Donald Trump’s commission on election integrity. Trump formed the commission in May to investigate alleged acts of voter fraud after he made unsubstantiated claims of “millions” of illegal votes being cast during last year’s presidential election.

Election experts across the country have said there is no evidence of any widespread voter fraud.

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 a hearing in the first suit 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. State officials are also considering alternatives to the Kennesaw elections center.

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