The Georgia election system is being overhauled with a switch to a voting paper trail as a presidential election year approaches. And Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is traveling to all 159 Georgia counties, meeting with election officials to hear any concerns they have about implementing the system.
On Friday, Raffensperger visited Madison County, where he met with election board chairperson Tracy Dean.
“We’re out here talking to the counties, getting feedback, what do they need, so we can help prepare them for the presidential primary,” said Raffensperger.
A primary concern for Dean is storage space. The new system includes ballot scanner machines with ballot holding bins that are about the size of a washing machine. Storage space at the elections office isn’t sufficient for the large ballot bins. And Dean said she would like to have the back wall of the storage room knocked out and the room expanded. Raffensperger said the state is working with counties on their needs and when asked about potential help with storage space, he said that he is looking at potential grants for such issues.
The new system includes a touch screen for voters to make their decisions. Once a voter has decided on candidates, they print a paper ballot, review it, then when they are satisfied with their decision, they put it into a large ballot scanner, which scans the paper and drops it into a large bin, which isn’t opened until the polls close. If they want to make a change to their vote, they must give the old ballot to a poll worker and print out a new one after changing their choice.
Raffensperger said the system was due for an upgrade. He noted that the iPhone came out in 2006 and is in its 11th generation. The state elections system hasn’t been updated in 17 years.
The Secretary of State said providing a paper trail gives voters more confidence in the system.
“What I tell everyone is, we understand that we live in polarized times,” said Raffensperger. “It’s very contentious on these elections. We understand that a lot of these elections will be 50-50. And half the people will be happy and half the people will be sad. But 100 percent of the people now can have confidence that their vote was securely counted. If we can secure the vote and we can provide that confidence to voters, then they understand that the winner truly did win and the loser truly did lose. And then we can get off of that and get back to what we need to do, get back to our day jobs.”
Raffensperger said implementing the new system before the presidential primaries is a quick turnaround, but he noted that it’s been done before.
“It was done in 2002, Cathy Cox was funded in 2001 and had to get ready for the May elections,” he said. “Our schedule is a little bit tighter, but it’s very doable. We have a plan in place. Right now, we have certified over 50 percent of the ballot-marking devices. There are 30,500 of those. And we’re at about the 15,000 mark. So we are working diligently through that. It comes in. It gets set up in a warehouse building. Dominion Voting Systems, after they certify it, they hand it over to us.”
Raffensperger said the state is focused on making sure election workers are properly trained.
“People have 17 years of muscle memory in the old system,” he said. “This is similar but different. From the voters’ standpoint, they won’t see as much change. But (for the election staff) it’s basically a total revamp of how we do elections in Georgia. It’s similar to if you’ve been in a PC world and suddenly someone puts a Mac on your desk. You say, ‘What’s going on here?’ That’s why it’s all about training.”
Dean agreed, saying she wants all county election workers to get enough training to feel fully confident.
“I don’t care how many times it takes them to be trained,” she said. “I want them to be comfortable and know what they’re doing when they go out on election day…. My main concern is our voters, that they feel comfortable when they come in and vote.”
Dean will work in the coming months to educate the public about the changes and she is available to give demonstrations to local civic clubs, churches and other organizations. To speak with Dean about a demonstration, call 706-795-6335.