ATLANTA – A federal judge will soon rule on whether Georgia’s hotly contested Dominion voting machines are vulnerable to hacking and violate voters’ constitutional rights, a decision that threatens to upend the battleground state’s election procedures ahead of the election. 2024 presidential campaign.
A sprawling, six-year legal fight over the integrity of Georgia’s elections is scheduled to conclude in federal court in Atlanta on Thursday, setting up a ruling that could shake voters’ faith in its election system and fuel even more accusations. unfounded fraud. On the right.
The trial is not about the massive voter fraud that former President Donald Trump claims occurred there in 2020 (those lawsuits failed in the months after the election) and no actual fraud or misconduct has been alleged in this trial. Rather, the case is about whether the system is so fundamentally vulnerable to hacking and bugs that it violates voters’ constitutional rights.
A good government group filed the lawsuit in 2017, long before Trump began blaming Dominion voting machines for his 2020 loss. Still, the trial — and particularly the testimony of cybersecurity expert J. Alex Halderman , who demonstrated a dramatic hacking of a machine in public hearing) has been seized upon by his right-wing allies as evidence of electoral conspiracy theories.
In 2019, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg barred the state from using its latest all-digital voting system over concerns about the security of the paperless system. The state purchased and implemented the existing Dominion system with a 107 million dollar contract, which includes ballot marking devices that allow voters to make their decisions on electronic voting machines. The machines then print receipts, with plain text summaries of voters’ choices and QR codes that ballot scanners use to tally voters’ choices.
The plaintiffs have argued that QR codes could hide a hacked election and that voters don’t even check their voting receipts to confirm that their votes have been cast correctly. They want the state to abandon the existing system in favor of hand-marked paper ballots, which are commonly used throughout the country.
The state has pointed to security measures that it says make a hacked election virtually impossible, election audits that review results written on the ballot, not QR codes, and state rules that require poll workers to urge voters to verify also their tickets.
Totenberg, who was appointed to the district court by President Barack Obama, joked wearily in court Wednesday that the case has been going on “forever.” He made clear in a November ruling that he does not believe he has the legal authority to force the hand-marked voting system sought by the plaintiffs.
“The Court cannot order the Georgia legislature to pass legislation creating a paper-based voting system or judicially impose a statewide paper voting system as a precautionary measure in this case,” he wrote then.
But he suggested it could offer some relief, such as additional audits or ballots without QR codes.
Gabriel Sterling, director of operations for the Georgia secretary of state’s office, testified Wednesday that overhauling an election system in an election year would be a “nightmare” because of all the training and new policies and procedures the state would undergo. forced to implement quickly. (Georgia’s presidential primary is March 12.)
“Thousands of people are going to be disenfranchised, especially in Fulton County, and I don’t think anyone wants that,” he testified Wednesday, defending the state system as efficient and safe. Fulton County is home to Atlanta, Georgia’s largest city.
Hand-marked paper ballots led to a battle of almost eight months about who won a Minnesota Senate seat in 2008, he added.
Whatever Totenberg’s rules are, they could force the state into a contentious presidential election cycle with an election system that a federal judge does not trust. Some on the right have already claimed that the case itself is evidence of fraud.
“I can take off my tinfoil hat, that’s what that judge said. We’re not a conspiracy theory guy anymore, praise the Lord,” MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell said on a podcast in November while he wore an actual tinfoil hat.
Lindell, a peddler of foam pillows and conspiracy theories about voter fraud, is one of many on the right who have defended Halderman’s claims and research in particular.
In court in January, Halderman used a borrowed pen to quickly bypass the election software and access the machine’s operating system in a matter of seconds, before changing a vote on the machine from George Washington to Benedict Arnold, an officer of the Revolutionary War who defected and went over to the British. . The hack required limited, cheap supplies, he testified.
The state has tried to discredit Halderman’s research, arguing that real-world security measures would prevent the type of attacks he testified about, which he developed after spending three months with a Fulton County election machine.
Deidre Holden, a longtime elections supervisor in Paulding County, echoed that sentiment, noting that she has poll workers monitor voters’ interactions with ballot marking devices. But headlines about hacked machines fueled doubts about her work and reminded her of the 2020 and 2021 elections, when she and others received graphic and violent threats.
“The trial is only adding fuel to the fire. It needs to be resolved and we need to move forward,” he stated.
Holden noted that the annual poll worker conference, which once focused on discussions about election best practices and provisional ballots, now includes active shooter training, briefings from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and instructions on how to administer Narcan in case that a package with fentanyl is sent to election workers.
“That has become our reality,” he said.
It is a reality where having a conversation about electoral integrity is complicated at best and when electoral systems are presented as completely secure or insecure.
“We tend to think that driving is safe not because nothing bad ever happens in cars, but because we know how to manage that risk. And when people think about election technology the same way, we’ll all be better off,” said Mark Lindeman, director of policy and strategy at Verified Voting, a group that promotes the responsible use of technology in elections.
Risks can be managed, he stressed. “Georgia isn’t hurtling off a cliff toward certain doom. Nothing here is that scary. But yeah, Georgia can probably do better.”