State of security: Georgia

Who's in charge: Secretary of State Brian Kemp

Secretary of State Brian Kemp famously said that Georgia didn’t have to worry about its voting systems because they were secure. That was before U.S. District Judge Amy 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.

While Totenberg denied plaintiffs’ request to compel  Georgia to replace or augment its touchscreen voting system in the 2018 election with paper ballots, noting the action would be too close to Election Day, she made it clear to officials that “further delay is not tolerable,” noting “a wound or reasonably threatened wound to the integrity of a state’s election system carries grave consequences beyond the results in any particular election.”

Kemp told SC Media shortly after the court’s decision in September that Georgia couldn’t have converted to a primarily hand-marked paper ballot system by the midterms. “This move would [have forced] Fulton County to shut down early voting locations because they do not have enough manpower to handle it,” he said, noting Cobb County’s vendors wouldn’t have been able to deliver enough paper ballots before the start of early voting and Gwinnett County wouldn’t have had “time to translate new election materials into Spanish,” which have violated federal voting rights law and it would have required more optical scanners. “No one has the budgeted cash for more staff, equipment, or paper, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Those three counties alone have 1.6 million registered voters.”

Even Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen referenced the state and its need for funding to improves its election security posture.

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, who is making a 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 in September. “Ultimately, the Federal Bureau of Investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing involving this misconfigured server.”

Kemp 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.

Georgia’s voting machines might be aging, Kemp said, “but they have never been compromised.” 

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. But the report urged the state to adopt a paper-based system and mandate audits.

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