GA Governor Signs Voting Equipment Purchase Into Law

[Image via flickriver]

Georgia Governor (and former SoS) Brian Kemp has signed a bill enacting voting equipment changes that will end the state’s use of touchscreen DRE machines – a change that many have called for, but one that is now controversial because of the machines that will replace them. The Journal-Constitution has more:

Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation to replace Georgia’s electronic voting machines with a touchscreen-and-paper ballot election system, after a polarizing debate over how to balance the integrity of the vote with ensuring accurate election results.

The Republican was long expected to sign House Bill 316, which divided Republicans and Democrats over whether voters should use computer-printed ballots or paper ballots bubbled in with a pen.

But the timing and quiet nature of the bill signing was peculiar: His office said in a notice posted on his website late Wednesday that Kemp inked the bill, along with 20 lower-profile measures, on Tuesday during the last day of the legislative session.

The quiet signing could have been a consequence of the noisy debate over the bill’s passage:

The measure passed the House and Senate mostly on a party line vote and approved in time to allow the system to be in place for next year’s presidential election, when the state’s 7 million registered voters will be eligible to cast their ballots.

Kemp and other Republicans supported the new voting machines, saying they’re easy to use and provide a paper record to check that vote counts are correct. The devices also include accessibility options, such as adjustable type sizes, for disabled voters.

Democrats fought the legislation, pointing to cybersecurity experts who warned it would leave Georgia’s elections susceptible to hacking and tampering. They wanted Georgia to switch to paper ballots bubbled in by pen, saying those would better preserve voters’ selections.

The good news is that the state is budgeting for the purchase – though lingering questions about the process could slow the pace of procurement:

Kemp included $150 million in his budget proposal for the new system, which includes printers that spit out paper ballots for voters to review and then insert into a scanning machine for tabulation. Opponents of the overhaul say the new machines will cost far more, including maintenance and repairs.

Just who will supply the machines remains unknown. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger put out a request for vendors in mid-March – weeks before the law was signed. But the close ties between one leading vendor and a Kemp deputy has drawn scrutiny

The Governor’s signature signals the beginning of the end of the DRE era in Georgia – the first state to commit to statewide deployment of the technology after the 2000 Presidential election. Given the revived concerns about voting technology and cybersecurity, not to mention the fierce partisan fight for Governor last year, it isn’t surprising that this move is generating debate and controversy as well. With that in mind – not to mention the need to fund, bid and procure new machines – I would expect the bill signing to be less like a sudden change and more like the “end of the beginning” for equipment changes in the Peach State. Stay tuned …

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