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Federal Judge To Georgia: Update Your Voting Machines Or Use Paper Ballots

The state of Georgia was already planning to phase out its ancient touchscreen electronic voting machines in favor of a new system based on ballot-marking machines.

So here's a pretty big deal, via Ars Technica. Federal Judge Amy Totenberg has ruled that the state of Georgia must use paper ballots if they can't update their voting machines before the 2020 presidential election.

Election security advocates scored a major victory on Thursday as a federal judge issued a 153-page ruling ordering Georgia officials to stop using its outdated electronic voting machines by the end of the year. The judge accepted the state's argument that it would be too disruptive to switch to paper ballots for municipal elections being held in November 2019. But she refused to extend that logic into 2020, concluding that the state had plenty of time to phase out its outdated touchscreen machines before then.

The state of Georgia was already planning to phase out its ancient touchscreen electronic voting machines in favor of a new system based on ballot-marking machines. Georgia hopes to have the new machines in place in time for a presidential primary election in March 2020. In principle, that switch should address many of the critics' concerns.

The danger, security advocates said, was that the schedule could slip and Georgia could then fall back on its old, insecure electronic machines in the March primary and possibly in the November 2020 general election as well. The new ruling by Judge Amy Totenberg slams the door shut on that possibility. If Georgia isn't able to switch to its new high-tech system, it will be required to fall back on a low-tech system of paper ballots rather than continue using the insecure and buggy machines it has used for well over a decade.

It's progress, I guess, but the ballot-marking machines aren't as secure as their advocates would have you believe and you might suspect that the same people who run the Georgia elections aren't all that concerned. From govtech.com:

Federal scrutiny of voting technology comes after a study published last week pointed out weaknesses in ballot-marking devices.

If ballot-marking devices are hacked or tampered with, they could print out falsified ballots, according to the study by three cybersecurity experts.

Many voters won't bother to double-check their paper ballots, and those that do might not notice inaccuracies, the study says. When a voter does find a problem, he or she could fill out a replacement ballot, but there’s no way to correct previous voters’ ballots affected by those problems.

“This is the essential security flaw of BMDs: Few voters will notice and promptly report discrepancies between what they saw on the screen and what is on the BMD print-out, and even when they do notice, there's nothing appropriate that can be done,” wrote the study’s authors, Princeton’s Andrew Appel, Georgia Tech’s Richard DeMillo and University of California, Berkeley’s Philip Stark.

In addition, the study warned that ballot-marking devices generally encode votes in bar codes alongside the printed text of voters' choices. Voters wouldn't be able to verify the accuracy of bar codes before they're scanned by tabulation computers.

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