ATLANTA — Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler told a handful of Cobb lawmakers Wednesday that there are several points she would like to see clarified in a new bill to overhaul Georgia’s election system.
While fielding questions from lawmakers at the Capitol, Eveler said she would like to see the bill specify how post-election audits will work and a more detailed breakdown of the equipment each voting precinct will receive.
Last week, state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Fleming, filed a bill that would allow the secretary of state to begin the process of purchasing ballot-marking devices to replace Georgia’s current election equipment. These devices are similar to the touch screens voters use now. The difference is that after completing their vote, the devices print out a paper ballot for voters to review. Voters would then turn in their printed ballots to be counted.
Fleming said Gov. Brian Kemp’s budget includes $150 million to purchase this new equipment. The goal would be to have the new equipment in place for the 2020 election.
Eveler said the bill does not specify how many scanning devices each precinct will receive, noting that it needs to be more than one per precinct in case a scanner goes down during voting. If the state doesn’t approve funding for more than one scanning machine per precinct, Eveler said she would likely ask the Cobb Board of Commissioners for the money to buy more.
She also said she would like more clarity on how post-election audits will work.
“I’m not sure if it’s going to be in the bill. It needs to be,” Eveler said, adding, “I think the author (of the bill) wanted to make it more broad so the rules could be defined in the state election board rules. And they may be on the same page already, but to me, that’s important.”
Rep. David Wilkerson, R-Powder Springs, chairman of the Cobb Legislative Delegation, invited Eveler to speak to lawmakers on Wednesday. He said he’s still undecided on the bill.
“At this point, I still have to get more information,” Wilkerson said. “There’s still that concern out there as far as touching the screen and the risk that there is for someone to hack in.”
Wilkerson said he wants to hear supporters of the bill discuss the potential cybersecurity issues involved with this new system. He said he also has an issue with the bill changing the formula for how many voting machines each precinct is required to have by increasing the number of voters per device.
“It’s not like we need less machines. We probably need more,” he said.
Still, Wilkerson said there is time to improve the bill before the Legislature takes a vote.
“There are definitely some things that can be added to the bill to enhance it,” he said. “I know Janine likes the touch-screen system, but if you can add some things like the audit trail and things like that, it may make people feel a little more comfortable.”
Only seven of Cobb’s 21-member delegation attended Wednesday’s meeting, all of whom are Democrats. Wilkerson said the gathering wasn’t an official delegation meeting, but rather a chance for Eveler to address questions all at once, rather than have lawmakers come to her individually.
“What we tried to do is set up an opportunity for people to come. We weren’t expecting everyone to be here, but anybody who had questions,” Wilkerson said.
The delegation’s secretary-treasurer, state Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna, will provide notes from the meeting to members of the delegation who could not attend, Wilkerson said.
Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-west Cobb, said he missed the meeting because of a miscommunication over where it would be held. Like Wilkerson, Tippins said he’s undecided on the bill.
“We’re obviously going to have to do something, but I’m going to let them do the yapping back and forth a little bit and then I’ll get into it,” Tippins said.
Moving to ballot-marking devices was the recommendation of the Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections Commission, established by then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp in April 2018. The SAFE Commission held meetings throughout the state, hearing from elections officials, cybersecurity experts, companies that build election equipment and the general public. The commission, which Fleming chaired, presented its final report and recommendations in January.
Fleming said if the bill becomes law, it authorizes the secretary of state to request proposals from the various vendors who sell voting machines. Those proposals include information about the features of their equipment and the cost. Regardless of the vendor chosen, Fleming’s bill specifies that the equipment purchased must be ballot-marking devices.