Following an election that was shadowed with allegations of voter suppression, upholding the integrity of the Georgia’s elections and ensuring that all voters’ voices are heard was of utmost importance at the start of a new legislative session. Georgia gained nationwide attention after hour long lines were seen at some of the most populous polling stations in cities such as Atlanta and polling places were closed on the day of voting, after voters were purged from registration logs, and after corrupt practices were disclosed regarding the counting of provisional and absentee ballots. Fortunately, election laws are left up to state legislatures to review and revise. With new voting laws being introduced and passed, Georgia should be seen as a state in which the right to vote flourishes, not a state in which members of the community are actively being purged from voter logs or are facing extreme barriers to vote.
In an effort to achieve greater voting transparency, on February 14th Georgia House Republicans introduced House Bill 316, which “would provide for uniform equipment and ballot marking devices” in the state of Georgia.”On the surface, this bill seems like a genuine effort to tackle the problems that plagued the state’s midterm elections. Following the recommendations from a voting commission created by Governor Brian Kemp last year, this bill would invest millions of dollars into ballot-marking devices that then print the computer filled-in ballot.Supporters of this practice argue that it is more reliable to use computer filled-in ballots so as to avoid human error in filling out a ballot. These new voting machines and system would cost $150 millionand invest into new computers to achieve accurate and error free ballots. This bill received support from the Georgia Republican Party, passing the House on February 26th, and the Senate recently on March 13th by narrow margins with a majority of Democrats opposing it.
The major opposition to this endeavor largely quotes election security officials who contend that investing in paper, hand-marked ballots is a much better way to ensure election integrity and security. In a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, officials urged that all elections “be conducted using human-readable paper ballots by the 2020 presidential election.”Experts agree that machine voting systems are susceptible to cyber attacks and outside influence. Apart from Georgia, election security is on the forefront of scholars and experts minds after Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and with a new presidential election in 2020. Therefore, it is counterintuitive for Georgia to be investing in machines that experts argue can harm both local, state, and national elections.
Furthermore, paper, hand-marked ballots is an endeavor that a majority of Georgians support. In January 2019, The Atlanta-Journal Constitutionconducted a poll in which 55 percent of respondents said they preferred these hand-marked ballots. Interestingly, 35 percent of respondents favored the machines that were just authorized by this legislation. It is therefore not just common sense policy to invest in the hand-marked ballots being advocated for by election security officials, but it is also a measure that a majority of Georgians would support.
Although this measure is likely to go into law given that it has just recently passed both houses of the legislature and is a bill that Governor Kemp has expressed support for, this is not the end to the election security mission in Georgia and around the country. It is important that Georgia’s citizens feel that when they show up to the polls, their voices will be heard and that their votes will count. This can be accomplished by first investing in a thorough, paper, hand-marked ballot system. The Georgia legislature can then continue to improve its electoral integrity by ensuring that polling places stay open later, that there are enough officials working to ensure that lines do not discourage or prevent anyone from voting, to reopen polling places that were closed in predominantly black communities, and to change registration purging practices that occur in the Secretary of State’s office. With these and more reforms, the state of Georgia can move towards more free and robust elections.