State News

Federal Judge to rule on midterm paper ballots by Monday


A federal judge in Atlanta says she’ll decide by Monday whether to require the state to use paper ballots in lieu of voting machines in the Nov. 6 General and Special Elections.

Judge Amy Totenberg of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia calls her choice “a Catch-22”, according to the Daily Report. She says she must balance disturbing testimony from cybersecurity experts that the current system is both vulnerable and may already have been compromised, against public officials who claim converting to paper ballots will result in a chaotic, error-prone and, ultimately, untrustworthy midterm election.

During testimony in Atlanta on Wednesday, Judge Totenberg watched as a computer science professor installed malicious software on an electronic voting machine identical to those used in Georgia. In the demonstration, University of Michigan professor Alex Halderman quickly converted an electoral win for George Washington to a loss in favor of opponent Benedict Arnold. Halderman used a memory card normally assigned to poll workers that he said could easily be programmed with malware introduced through a computer system used by the state or counties to prepare for elections.

Georgia’s voting machines operate on software that expired more than five years ago. They also do not produce an independent paper record of individual votes. Plaintiffs in the case want the judge to order state officials to do away with the old machines in favor of paper ballots by Nov. 6.

Totenberg on Wednesday acknowledged the machine’s susceptibility to hackers. “It’s not a theoretical, paranoid notion at this point,” she said. “We can’t see our vote and what happened to it.”

“To call it paranoia, you don’t deal with it,” she added, “and I suspect we have to deal with it.”

The judge chided lawyers for asking for an injunction in August in a suit filed in 2017. “I’m concerned we are here at the eleventh hour,” she said. But she acknowledged that national increased scrutiny over cyber vulnerabilities “provided far more substantive material … than what was in front of our court in 2017.”

“I’m concerned on the part of the state as well,” she told lawyers defending the State Election Board and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican candidate for governor who was not present at Wednesday’s hearing. “Why are we just dealing with this now?”

Totenberg said she intends to issue a ruling Friday or Monday.

File photo. For more on this story visit the Daily Report.

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