Hearing set on county decision to ditch new voting machines

March 5, 2020 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s state election board on Thursday scheduled an emergency hearing on the decision by election officials in one county to use hand-marked paper ballots for the presidential primary rather than the state’s new voting machines.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, chairman of the state board, issued a notice setting the hearing for March 11 to determine whether the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections’ decision violates state laws and election rules.

With early voting already underway, the county board voted 3-2 on Tuesday to sideline the new machines. Board Chairman Jesse Evans said the board found it “impracticable” when using the new machines to protect ballot secrecy and allow sufficient monitoring to prevent tampering as required by state law.

Judd Drake, the attorney for Athens-Clarke County, cautioned board members before they voted that it would be difficult to meet that standard in court after the county’s own election supervisor insisted the machines could be arranged in a way that protects voters’ privacy.

Evans did not answer a phone call and did not immediately respond to a text message Thursday seeking comment on the notice.

The March 24 presidential primaries mark the first statewide test for Georgia’s new $103 million voting system, which combines electronic touchscreens with printed ballots that are tallied by a scanner. Some election integrity advocates have argued the large, bright touchscreens with their large fonts make it easy to see how other people are voting.

Georgia law requires all of the state’s 159 counties to use the new voting system except when county election officials determine that using electronic machines becomes “impossible or impracticable.”

The hearing notice says the county board should be prepared to respond to questions and present testimony and evidence for “its determination that it is ‘impossible or impracticable’ to use electronic ballot markers in the ongoing election.”

The state board and the county board will both be allowed to have a lawyer, subpoena witnesses and documents, and respond to and present evidence. The hearing will be held in Athens.