ATLANTA (AP) — With early voting already underway, election officials in a Georgia county have voted to switch from the state’s new voting machines to hand-marked paper ballots amid concerns about ballot secrecy.
The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections voted 3-2 Tuesday to have voters mark their selections by hand on paper ballots that will be tallied by a scanner for the presidential primary election, board Chair Jesse Evans confirmed to The Associated Press in a statement sent by text message late Tuesday.
The board found it “impracticable to use the new electronic voting system to meet the state and federal legal requirements” that it “protect absolute ballot secrecy while allowing sufficient monitoring of the ballot marking devices in use,” Evans wrote.
State law allows county election officials to opt for hand-marked paper ballots when using electronic voting machines becomes “impossible or impracticable.”
The primary is the first time Georgia’s new voting machines and election management system are being used statewide. Early voting began Monday for the March 24 contest.
Georgia lawmakers last year passed a law providing for a new voting system and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in July awarded a contract to Dominion Voting Systems.
The new system replaces the outdated paperless touchscreen machines and election management system the state had been using since 2002. The new touchscreen voting machines are connected to printers that produce a paper ballot that voters feed into a scanner that reads and tallies the votes.
Voting integrity activists have said the machines’ large, bright, vertical touchscreens and large font allow other people in the room to see a voter’s selections in violation of ballot secrecy provisions in state law.
Officials with the secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections, have acknowledged that there are legitimate privacy concerns with the new machines.
The agency recently sent precinct layout diagrams to county election officials to help with privacy concerns. An “ineffective/bad” layout shows machines facing the center of the room so voters have their backs to people waiting to vote, while two layouts labeled “effective/preferred” show voting machines arranged so voters’ backs face a wall.
In a message to county election officials, Chris Harvey, the director of the agency’s elections division, said the diagrams “illustrate potential problems and solutions to securing voter privacy.”
“This is based on reported concerns and our own observations,” he wrote.
The secretary of state’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment late Tuesday night.
The Coalition for Good Governance, an election integrity advocacy organization, and three of its members last week sued the elections board in Sumter County, citing ballot secrecy concerns.
The lawsuit said the layouts provided by the secretary of state’s office don’t solve the problem because they don’t completely protect a voter’s selections from the view of other voters and don’t allow poll workers to see the machines, as required by law, to prevent tampering.
The judge in that case on Monday denied an emergency motion that sought a switch to hand-marked paper ballots, writing that the activists hadn’t proven that it will be “impossible or impracticable” for the election officials to arrange the voting machines “in a manner that protects the secrecy of the ballot while allowing sufficient monitoring.”