While a U.S. District Court judge has rebuffed attempts to move Georgia’s fall municipal elections to paper ballots, she did order the state to replace its direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines with paper ballot systems by its March 24 presidential primary.

“The court prohibits any use of the GEMS/DRE system after 2019,” Judge Amy Totenberg noted in an order that granted “narrowly tailored relief measures to ensure that the GEMS/DRE system is not resorted to as a stopgap default system in the event the Secretary of State and its contractor are unable to fully and properly rollout the new BMD system in time for the 2020” presidential primary or other elections going forward.

Under former Secretary of State Brian Kemp, now governor of the state, Georgia was plagued with election woes and the state dragged its heels in replacing outdates and insecure systems. Kemp famously said that Georgia didn’t have to worry about its voting systems because they were secure. That was before Totenberg admonished Georgia officials in September for sticking their “head in the sand” in the face of evidence that showed the state’s election systems had obvious security holes.

The state’s voting system has been under intense scrutiny both for security issues – Kemp released personal identifying information (PII) of six million Georgia voters to 12 organizations including political parties in 2015 and Georgia was among the 19 states whose whose 35 million voter records were found on the dark web by Anomali Labs – as well as possible voter suppression, after Kemp, during his run for the Georgia governorship, purged voter rolls.

In August 2016, security researcher Logan Lamb spotted and reported vulnerabilities in systems used to manage Georgia’s election technology and in 2017 he claimed the state had continuously ignored efforts to patch the vulnerabilities ahead of Georgia’s special senatorial election between Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff against Republican former Secretary of State Karen Handel, which Kemp denied.

“My office was not notified about the misconfigured server at Kennesaw State University [which ran Georgia’s election system] until months after school officials were first warned about potential vulnerabilities. As soon as I learned about this incident, I immediately requested assistance from law enforcement to conduct a formal investigation,” Kemp told SC Media. “Ultimately, the Federal Bureau of Investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing involving this misconfigured server.”

Kemp also noted the Secretary of State’s network was not compromised and he ended the state’s relationship with the KSU Center for Election Systems.

The state also raised eyebrows last year when the Center for Elections Systems at KSU, wiped a server containing data on the Ossoff/Handel election after a lawsuit was filed against Georgia officials.

Of the aging voter systems, Kemp said, “they have never been compromised.” 

But the Center for American Progress gave Georgia a “D,” noting that the state got points for testing all machines to EAC Voluntary Voting System Guidelines, conducting pre-election logic and accuracy testing on machines before an election and for requiring absentee ballots to be mailed in or delivered in person rather than electronically. The report urged the state to adopt a paper-based system and mandate audits. And Totenberg’s court has ordered just that.

“The long and twisting saga of Georgia’s non-auditable DRE/GEMS voting system – running on software of almost two decades vintage with well-known flaws and vulnerabilities and limited cyber security – is finally headed to towards its conclusion,” Totenberg wrote.

Last month Georgia awarded a $107 million contract to Dominion Voting Systems for touch-screen systems that provide a paper ballot. But Totenberg expressed concern, “based upon the entirety of the record evidence, about the State’s capacity to manage a transition to paper ballots for the 2019 elections while overseeing and undergoing a simultaneous transition to the newly enacted voting system during this time.”