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Georgia Should Use Paper Ballots

There is no more American activity than casting your vote in an election. Yet today, a cloud of doubt throws shade on our elections. Many of us on the right believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Many of us on the left fear that future elections will be stolen through tactics such as voter suppression. Is there anything we all can agree on? 

I believe there is. More than 15 years ago, I worked in election reform for the national nonpartisan organization Common Cause. At that time, one of our biggest concerns was the use in many states, including Georgia, of paperless touch-screen voting machines. Our advisors—including respected computer scientists—warned that these machines could easily be hacked, and such manipulation would not be detectable by election authorities. 

Their warnings were heard. Today, paperless machines are not found in Georgia. When you vote, you receive a ticket showing how you voted. It sounds like an improvement.  

Unfortunately, it doesn’t solve the problem. Studies have shown that voters rarely take the time to check their ticket. And if they do find an error, it’s not clear how to correct their ballot; the wrong vote has already been entered and counted.  

For truly verifiable election results, votes must be able to be audited. A meaningful audit involves comparing a portion of actual votes cast to the tabulating machine’s tally. This ensures that the machine is working properly. The only verifiable proof of the votes you cast is an original paper ballot that you have marked yourself, not a touch-screen machine’s interpretation of your voting intent.  

This is the sort of voting that is done in many states today. In Georgia, it is the system used in an emergency, when touchscreen machines break down, or electricity goes out, or some other malfunction occurs. 

Voting on paper doesn’t require special training of voters. It is not difficult for election workers to manage. The voter-marked paper ballots can be scanned and tabulated. As long as the chain of custody is controlled and documented, your paper ballot is the best representation of your voting decisions. Your intent is clear—you wrote it yourself.  

Voters on the left and the right are correct in fearing the veracity of the touchscreen machines this November. Computer experts warn that Coffee County’s breach of voting equipment as well as breaches in Arizona and Michigan present an emergency because they may have made information available to election hackers. Unfortunately, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is unwilling to face this challenge to our election’s integrity.  

There still is time for him to change his mind. Enough “emergency” ballots need to be printed and distributed to polling places; election officials need to plan for physical changes such as writing surfaces and pens at the polls; and poll workers need training to know how to correctly handle the ballots. A thorough audit protocol must be created and strictly enforced to ensure all optical scanners are counting the votes properly. With these minimal steps, Georgia voters of all persuasions should feel confident.  

There is no greater emergency than Americans’ loss of faith in our election process. In Georgia and elsewhere, voter-marked paper ballots can help restore that trust. Join me in urging Raffensperger and our local election boards to make the change.