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Computers serving as electronic pollbooks were stolen overnight Tuesday from a community center serving as a polling place for an Atlanta special election, leaving officials concerned about the statewide voter data contained therein. The AJC has more:
Two computers that are used to check in voters were stolen from a west Atlanta precinct hours before polls opened Tuesday for a city school board election.
Officials replaced the computers before voters arrived, and the election wasn’t disrupted, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.
The express poll computers contain names, addresses, birth dates and driver’s license information for every voter in the state, said Richard Barron, Fulton County’s elections director. They don’t include Social Security numbers. They are password-protected, and the password changes for every election.
The computers, which were in a locked and sealed case, haven’t been recovered.
The robbery occurred sometime late Monday night or early Tuesday:
Poll workers discovered the burglary early Tuesday morning at the Grove Park Recreation Center near Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway.
Atlanta police said they were first called to the recreation center at 12:30 a.m. on an alarm call. They found an unlocked door but saw no one inside.
When election employees arrived, they told police “the kitchen had been ransacked,” a microwave had been moved to a different room, food items were missing and the express poll machines were missing, Atlanta police Sgt. John Chafee said.
The Secretary of State expressed concern about the data on the machines and vowed a thorough investigation:
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said he’s concerned about the stolen election equipment.
“They may not have realized what they were stealing. They may have just thought they were stealing computer hardware of some sort, but they stole a whole lot more than they thought,” Raffensperger said. “They’re in a whole lot of trouble. There will be a thorough investigation.”
Unfortunately, Georgia has dealt with this issue before:
This isn’t the first time express poll units have been stolen in the state. In 2017, a Cobb County machine was stolen from a precinct manager’s car.
Barron said the machines don’t connect to the internet and can’t be used for other purposes. He said they can’t be tracked.
“I’m sure whoever took them had no idea what was in that case,” he said. “A Palm Pilot from 2000 is probably more sophisticated than those things. They’re pretty primitive pieces of equipment.”
Georgia’s planned upgrades to its voting system should, in theory, reduce the threat of data breaches from thefts like these:
The new voting system will come with iPads for voter registration check-ins, which will include additional security capabilities. The Apple operating system allows election officials to remotely erase data and track the locations of iPads.
“These upgrades protect privacy and enhance security for the entire statewide voting system,” said Tess Hammock, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, which is also investigating the incident. “We encourage every county to secure its equipment, new or old, properly.”
The Secretary of State’s Office trains county election officials on cyber and physical security, she said.
County officials were irritated about the theft as well:
[Fulton’s] Barron said he hoped voters’ information remained secure. He said it was frustrating to have to deal with the theft.
“In this era of distrust of everything, it’s just another thing to have to explain,” Barron said.
Atlanta police said they are working to identify who is behind the burglary.
This story highlights the need to protect physical assets as well as digital ones; while this may have been a simple property crime, the stolen goods are way more valuable than just the resale value of the missing computers. This risk only increases as technology gets smaller and more powerful – developments that make items like e-pollbooks easier to use but also easier to carry away. Stay tuned…