RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Paperless voting machines are having their day in court today in Georgia. A federal judge is weighing whether the state should use paper ballots instead of the electronic voting machines in November or whether all that would just create unnecessary chaos. Johnny Kauffman of member station WABE is following this and joins us now from Atlanta. So Johnny, who filed the case, and what are they worried about?
JOHNNY KAUFFMAN, BYLINE: This case comes from a few Georgia voters and election security advocates here. And they brought the case because Georgia is one of 14 states that uses these touch-screen voting machines. They don't produce a paper trail. And so if hackers manipulate vote totals or something else goes wrong, you can't do a recount or audit. And the plaintiffs say this undermines the state's interest in preventing voter fraud. It makes people less confident in the election. And they're like, we have these competitive midterms coming up. This is really urgent. There are some big races in Georgia, too. I think also there's the broader context - right? - of, you know, this news that Russian hackers targeted the election systems in 2016. And that brought a lot of attention and sort of energy behind this lawsuit.
MARTIN: Right. So what our state election officials saying? I mean, do they think paper's a good idea?
KAUFFMAN: Well, the top election official in Georgia is Secretary of State Brian Kemp. He also happens to be a Republican running for governor. He will be on the ballot whether it's paper or electronic, right? And for years, Kemp has faced a lot of questions about how he's handled election security. The most relevant example comes from - right around the 2016 election, there was this website overseen by a state contractor that was unsecured. And basically, open to the public were passwords from poll workers, voter registration records. Kemp blames the contractor for that. But whatever exactly happened, the incident did not reassure people about Georgia's election security. Also Kemp rejected help from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security twice that was helped to bolster, you know, Georgia's defenses. Other states were offered this stuff, too. Despite all this - right? - Kemp insists that Georgia's elections are secure. But when it comes to the lawsuit, he says switching to paper ballots right now - and he told me this - he said it would be, quote, "an absolute disaster."
MARTIN: I mean, would it be? I mean, it does seem, like, kind of short notice to switch two months before an election.
KAUFFMAN: It's really short notice. And, you know, Georgians can already vote on paper by requesting an absentee ballot in the mail. So what the plaintiffs in this case want to do - these voters and advocates - is expand that absentee ballot system, this paper system, as an alternative to the electronic machines. Some ideas they have would be sending out absentee ballots to the entire state, supplying them at polling places on Election Day. Whatever - if the judge decides to throw out the electronic machines, it would probably be up to them to decide. But election officials here like Lynn Bailey, who's from Richmond County, east of Atlanta - they're worried about this. And she says - Bailey does - that switching to paper ballots so close to Election Day would lead to long lines, confusion, lower turnout and would be expensive.
LYNN BAILEY: We are in the throes of full steam ahead with this election. It would be a big distraction to make such a change this close in.
KAUFFMAN: One thing to note about Georgia is that we have a lot of counties here - 159 counties. A lot of people would say that's too many counties. And most are even smaller than Richmond County where Bailey is. So it's these smaller counties Bailey is worried about. They don't have as many resources. Making this switch would be a lot harder for them. So if the judge does throw out the voting machines, it's going to create a lot of scrambling and questions about how exactly to do it before November 6.
MARTIN: All right, Johnny Kauffman with member station WABE in Atlanta - thanks so much, Johnny. We appreciate it.
KAUFFMAN: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF TESK'S "GREEN STAMPS")
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