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Georgia Election Security Improvements Will Cost $32.5M

State election officials have warned that eliminating ballot bar codes, adding ballot verification technology and installing voting machine upgrades would not be ready for the 2024 election.

Georgia election officials are telling Republican state legislators that their proposed security enhancements might be possible — at a cost of $32.5 million and probably not before the 2024 election.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s chief attorney recently outlined the feasibility of items such as eliminating ballot bar codes, adding ballot verification technology and installing voting machine upgrades, according to letters obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through the Georgia Open Records Act.

The response to legislators comes after they and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones demanded security improvements in response to a report by a computer science professor who found “critical vulnerabilities” that, if successfully exploited, could flip votes from one candidate to another. The state Senate Ethics Committee plans to hold election security hearings this fall.

Raffensperger has said existing testing, audits and physical security already prevent potential attacks, and election officials are conducting statewide “health checks” of voting equipment to help ensure they haven’t been tampered with.

“We appreciate your support in backing the secure voting system used in the successful 2022 election that elected you and your colleagues,” Charlene McGowan, general counsel for the secretary of state’s office, wrote in an Aug. 24 letter to Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch. “The secretary believes it is critical that we not let activists sow dissent, disinformation and doubt in the integrity of Georgia’s elections.”

State senators want more information about why Raffensperger decided not to upgrade to a newer version of the software of Dominion Voting Systems, which could help mitigate some vulnerabilities. Raffensperger said it’s impractical to test and install the upgrade on tens of thousands of pieces of voting equipment before the 2024 election.

“It’s time for answers from both the secretary of state and Dominion Voting Systems on why software updates were not performed in a timely manner,” Senate Ethics Chairman Max Burns said earlier this month. “The people of Georgia deserve no less.”

Raffensperger, a Republican, has come under fire from critics within his own party following Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Georgia by about 12,000 votes over Republican Donald Trump. Recounts and investigations repeatedly dispelled allegations of fraud.

Several issues remain before a statewide rollout of the update to Dominion Voting Systems equipment, McGowan wrote. The update is still being tested, it’s not yet compatible with voter check-in tablets, and the General Assembly hasn’t allocated money for a large-scale statewide installation.

A test run of the update is tentatively planned for several municipal elections this November.

Other potential security changes are either expensive or unrealistic, McGowan wrote.

Eliminating computer bar codes on ballots, which are used by ballot scanners to read votes, would require $15 million for 32,500 new ballot printers across the state that can handle a larger 18-inch ballot, McGowan said. Election security advocates say bar codes prevent human verification to ensure their choices are accurately recorded.

It would also cost $4.1 million to install bar code readers in each voting location to allow voters to independently verify their choices, McGowan wrote in a letter to House Governmental Affairs Chairman John LaHood. The estimated cost for research and development of the technology would be an additional $600,000.

An education campaign encouraging voters to check their printed ballots for accuracy would come with a $10 million price tag, including traditional and digital advertising. An additional $2.7 million would be needed for enhanced election worker training.

McGowan rejected a proposal for manual audits of every race on the ballot, telling legislators that counties lack the resources and time before results are finalized to check each contest. Georgia law currently requires audits of at least one statewide contest after general, primary, runoff and special elections.

The General Assembly could consider election security proposals and funding when it convenes in January.

©2023 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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