A long-running dispute over Georgia’s voting system has further fueled claims that state election officials haven’t done enough to ensure election security ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

This story also appeared in Georgia Recorder

The State Election Board this week rejected a petition to expedite the Secretary of State’s decision to wait until 2025 before updating the Dominion Voting Systems software. The decision comes after state election officials urged caution against making rash recommended changes to technology that Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger declares to be secure and battle tested.

A U.S. District court judge last week unsealed a cybersecurity expert’s report that details how the state’s electronic voting system could be hacked to manipulate election results. Meanwhile, state officials are also mulling the findings of another analyst who greatly discounts any possibility of electronic manipulation of the Dominion voting system that has been in place in Georgia since 2019.

The Dominion machines used in several battleground states in the 2020 presidential election became fodder for President Donald Trump to level false allegations that the equipment had been manipulated to switch votes from Trump to help seal the victory for Democrat Joe Biden.

A number of state and federal investigations found no evidence of voting fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and multiple recounts confirmed Biden’s victory in Georgia. 

In a long-running federal lawsuit, plaintiffs such as the Coalition for Good Governance have challenged the state’s electronic voting system. Besides pushing for hand-marked paper ballots as the new statewide voting method, the election security group is also pushing for fixes they say are needed before next year’s elections.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit uncovered video surveillance footage of a January 2021 breach at Coffee County’s election office. Other evidence uncovered through the litigation appears to reveal coordinated breaches were carried out by attorney Sidney Powell and other lawyers working on behalf of Trump’s campaign to discredit the 2020 election results. 

Jeanne Dufort with the Morgan County Democratic Party said the state is ignoring warnings by postponing any significant changes until 2025. She cited the recently unsealed report by Alex Halderman, a computer science professor at Michigan and expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Georgia election case.

“The path of the 2024 presidential election runs through Georgia and it is unfathomable – why would anyone refuse to protect our elections, if they had the power to act,” she said at Wednesday’s election board meeting. 

“The election system software that powers our elections has been in the hands of partisan actors for two and a half years,” Dufort said. “We’ve seen their text (messages). They have expressed intent to use it to change election outcomes, and they believe they can do it and that scares the hell out of me.”

State election officials told the State Election Board that reviewing this year’s software updates will take months to complete so changes should not be rushed.

State election attorney Charlene McGowan said that it is far too close to an election for knee-jerk decisions to be made.

“The secretary of state will not be reckless with the security and integrity of our state’s voting system,” she said. “We will act in a responsible, informed and deliberative manner that ensures the security of our system in a way that is consistent with Georgia law.”

Matt Mashburn, a GOP member of the election board, said the General Assembly should answer the question about which voting system works best for Georgia in the long term.

Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the secretary of state, said on Tuesday’s WABE “Political Breakfast” show that theoretical vulnerabilities don’t translate to real-world risks. Sterling accused Halderman of being influenced by money to advocate for a particular voting system and benefiting from having passwords that access to the system.

“Every system has some kind of political vulnerabilities,” Sterling said. “Nearly every one of these claims require bad actors doing something and being unnoticed through all of our layers of security.”

Following the release of the report, influential GOP officials like Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler urged the secretary of state to resolve the vulnerabilities in the system as soon as possible.

A number of election reform groups, cybersecurity experts and former election officials have called upon the FBI, Department of Justice and the nation’s top cybersecurity agency to open a probe into a multi-state plot to access and copy election system hard drives and software in Georgia’s Coffee County, Michigan, Nevada and other states. 

Fallout from the Coffee County breach continued in April 2023 when the Secretary of State’s office seized a Treutlen County election server to check for potential security compromises. State election investigators seized the server after learning that disgraced former Coffee County election director Misty Hampton had been hired to run a special election in Treutlen after being forced out of her previous job.

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