Judge Orders Paper Backups of Voter Lists in Georgia

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The State of Georgia will be required to have printed paper backups of its voter list on Election Day as a precaution in case electronic poll books fail, according to a new federal court order. The AJC has more:

A federal judge on Monday required paper backups of voter registration and absentee voting information at every Georgia polling place, a safeguard to allow voters to continue casting ballots if computers fail on Election Day.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ordered election officials to prepare paper copies of records showing who is registered to vote and whether they’ve already voted before Nov. 3, either by absentee ballot or during in-person early voting.

The ruling could help prevent long lines if poll workers struggle with the state’s new voter check-in tablets, called Poll Pads, as they did during the state’s June 9 primary, Totenberg wrote. Some voters waited for hours because of a combination of high turnout, poll closures, social distancing, absentee ballot problems and difficulties operating voting equipment.

“It is not too late for defendants to take these reasonable concrete measures to mitigate the real potential harms that would otherwise likely transpire at precinct polling locations grappling with the boiling brew created by the combination of new voting equipment issues and old voter data system deficiencies,” Totenberg wrote.

The state resisted the paper lists and will appeal, saying the order will overtax already-busy local election officials racing to prepare for November:

State election officials opposed more paper backups, saying printouts of thousands of pages of documents would strain county poll workers trying to run the biggest election in state history during the coronavirus health crisis. Turnout is expected to reach 5 million voters.

“Changing long-standing processes right before an election almost always has unintended consequences,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said. “We will file a notice of appeal immediately to protect the security of the vote and to protect Georgia elections from activists on disinformation campaigns.”

The court’s action is intended to address problems that have arisen in previous elections:

Totenberg’s 67-page ruling recounts problems that voters have faced in elections since 2018.

Some voters showed up at the polls but weren’t listed as registered on check-in computers. Others found wrong addresses displayed or were told they had to go to another polling place to vote. Poll workers at times didn’t offer provisional ballots as they should have to voters whose registration information was in doubt.

In addition, computer voter registration systems showed that some voters had already cast their ballots when they hadn’t.

Poll Pads, part of the state’s new voting system, have caused election problems since they were first used in November. Some polling places opened late because workers couldn’t get Poll Pads working. At other times, poll workers couldn’t get the Poll Pads to program voter access cards that activate touchscreens.

Plaintiffs hailed the ruling and said they hoped the paper lists wouldn’t be necessary – though such lists could be crucial if the e-pollbooks malfunction and poll workers are unable to determine if a voter has already cast a ballot by mail:

“The judge’s order will go a long way to prevent the long lines that crippled the June primary by giving local county election officials something to use if the electronic Poll Pads, which check in voters, continue to fail, as they have in every recent election,” said Bruce Brown, an attorney for the Coalition for Good Governance, an election security organization. “Like a lot of backup systems, the hope is that they’ll never be used.”

While paper voter registration lists were already required at precincts before Totenberg’s ruling, they didn’t contain records of who had already voted in the election. That information is accessible on Poll Pads, but if they’re not functioning, that could severely slow the voting process. Poll workers would have to issue provisional ballots to voters if their registration information can’t be verified.

A paper list showing who has voted or requested an absentee ballot would allow poll workers to continue allowing eligible voters to move through lines, according to Totenberg’s ruling. Voters who never requested an absentee ballot would be able to vote immediately; others could cancel their absentee ballots and then vote.

The court’s order says it’s intended to ensure that voters don’t experience the long lines seen during the state’s primary:

“Voters waited for hours because of delays and malfunctions with the operation of the Poll Pads. In many instances of such bottlenecks created by operational problems with the Poll Pads, poll workers did not use paper pollbooks as a backup to aid voter check-in and facilitate voting,” Totenberg wrote.

She ordered the secretary of state’s office to create voter registration lists and absentee voting records after in-person early voting ends the Friday before Election Day. Then county election offices will be required to print out those lists and provide them at each precinct.

This is a significant order; creating, printing and distributing those paper voter lists could pose challenges for state and localities the weekend before Election Day. Here’s hoping the process runs smoothly and that Peach State voters encounter none of the problems they saw earlier this year. Stay tuned …

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