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Georgia Ditches Touchscreen Voting Machines For Ballot Marking Devices

Mike Stewart
AP Photo

Georgia supervisors of election this week learned they are making the switch from touchscreen voting machines to what’s called ballot marking devices. Yet, opinions are split on whether that’s a good thing.

Frank Scoggins is supervisor of elections for Thomas County, which will be using the electronic ballot marking devices, or BMDs, for the 2020 election. Scoggins says some other Georgia counties will use them even earlier as pilot sites for special elections.

“When you’re satisfied you cast the ballot, and of course it prints – and this is what’s new to Georgia this year – it prints an actual paper ballot that you can actually hold in your hand and read, and see that you voted and it recorded the correct candidates that you voted for,” Scroggins said Tuesday.

Scoggins adds he and other supervisors are happy that a decision has been made and a vendor selected, with a major presidential election right around the corner. He also says going forward, audits after every election will be the standard in Georgia. But, Scoggins claims Thomas County never saw a problem with the previous touchscreen machines.

“I’ve been here five years, and I’ve never run into a problem where we’re out of balance,” Scoggins said.

Former longtime Leon County supervisor of elections Ion Sancho says that move came after researchers determined data from the Georgia voting system was insecure.

“In January, the Georgia legislature made the decision that they had to go to a new system of voting,” Sancho said.

Sancho remains an elections expert, even travelling the country to speak at conferences. He says hand-marked paper ballot systems are more cost effective, and more accurate.

“Because you want to confirm that a voters’ vote is counted. And you can’t do that if you let the electronic device make the paper for you,” Sancho said of Georgia’s new machines.

Sancho maintains that any elections system can be hacked – but insists the paper ballot system, which Leon County uses currently, is the closest thing to impervious to such a threat.

“Experts told the State of Georgia that they needed to go to a hand marked paper ballot system; their own scientific director on the SAFE Committee – Georgia established a committee called SAFE which stands for Secure Accessible and Fair Elections,” Sancho added.

Nevertheless, the Georgia will employ the ballot marking devices going forward. Georgia isn’t the only state where BMDs have been considered. This week, the North Carolina State Board of Elections voted to move away from using BMDs in favor of hand-marked ballots.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.