Outside Firm Hired to Represent Georgia in Voting Machine Case

by | November 2, 2017

By Maya T. Prabhu

Former Gov. Roy Barnes' law firm will represent Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp in a lawsuit that a national election transparency advocacy group filed to force the state to overhaul its election system.

The Department of Administrative Services has replaced Attorney General Christopher Carr with Barnes Law Group to represent Kemp, the state Election Board and others named in the case, Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce said.

The Charlotte-based Coalition for Good Governance, led by Executive Director Marilyn Marks, has said that reported security lapses show the state's system is "vulnerable and unreliable" and should not have been used for the 6th Congressional District runoff race in June -- nor should it be used in next week's election.

Kennesaw State University runs the Center for Elections Systems and is also a defendant in the lawsuit.

Carr's office would not comment on the move.

The Attorney General's Office often hires outside counsel to represent state agencies when there's a conflict of interest, such as a situation where the Law Department would have to represent both the Secretary of State's Office and KSU in the same legal matter.

"I definitely don't see eye to eye with Governor Barnes on a lot of issues, but I think anyone would tell you he's a damn good lawyer," said Kemp, a Republican candidate for governor.

Kemp said he looks forward to working with Barnes, a Democrat, despite their differing political views.

"He will be a zealous advocate for the state Election Board and the secretary of state to show that these claims are baseless," he said.

Kemp's office has maintained that the voting system is safe, saying steps were taken after being informed in March about potential security weaknesses.

The move comes less than a week after it was revealed that the KSU center erased a server containing voting information.

The data wipe was revealed in an email sent by a state prosecutor to lawyers representing the Coalition for Good Governance, who filed the lawsuit on July 3 questioning the security and accuracy of Georgia's election infrastructure.

The documents show the destruction of the data occurred July 7 at the KSU center, which runs the state's election system.

KSU said the server that had been examined by the FBI was wiped so it could be repurposed, and that the FBI had a copy of the data that were on the server.

Broce pointed to a Fulton County Superior Court judge's finding in June that there was no evidence that Georgia's voting systems were "unsafe, inaccurate, and impracticable." The pending case addresses the same issues from the coalition and other Georgia voters, but Kemp's office said it expects the same outcome.

"This far-fetched conjecture erodes public confidence in our elections without good cause," said John Salter, an attorney with Barnes Law Group. "Putting plaintiffs' proof to test will confirm Secretary Kemp and the state Election Board executed the election laws of our state reasonably and fairly."

Marks stood by her accusations against the state's voting system.

"The far-fetched conjecture here is that they were operating according to the law when they destroyed the records," Marks said. "A responsible election official does not ... run an election on a system that they know to be compromised."

Barnes drew some heat from fellow Democrats at his decision to represent Kemp in the legal matter.

Kemp has long been at odds with former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, a top Democratic gubernatorial contender. Barnes has endorsed another Democrat, former state Rep. Stacey Evans, in the race.

"I was dumbfounded that Roy Barnes would defend the secretary of state in such a case," said state Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus, who was long Abrams' top deputy in the Georgia House.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.

(c)2017 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)