Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has announced so-called “health checks” of Georgia’s (critically ill) touchscreen voting system in advance of 2024 elections. Yet he ignores the fact that the system design spectacularly failed the independent security reviews conducted in 2021 and 2022, and he has done nothing to better secure the system. Ironically his “health checks” are designed to ensure that the currently used flawed software that failed its security design reviews is exactly what is installed again for use in 2024.  

Consider the warnings from the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), as well as from the most respected voting system experts in the nation. And warnings as well from the federal court in extensive orders about Georgia’s touchscreen voting system in our Curling v Raffensperger case. The touchscreen technology (“Ballot Marking Devices”) makes the BMD element of the system untrustworthy for public elections. 

However, the good news is that Georgia’s well-tested emergency balloting system using hand marked ballots tabulated by the current scanners is an available fail-safe way to achieve correct outcomes, if the outcomes are subjected to good audits. Yet Raffensperger and the State Election Board refuse to consider this commonsense alternative, while clinging to their wildly expensive and unreliable 100,000+ piece Rube Goldbergian system. (The multi-thousand dollar hackable touchscreens, attached printers and large back up batteries are nothing more than an unjustifiably complex substitute for an ink pen and printed ballot.) 

Experts, federal court warnings ignored 

Georgia voters, press, political organizations and voting rights groups should not rely on a politician’s superficial, politically motivated claims about cybersecurity rather than relying on the unrefuted findings of preeminent experts, DHS/CISA and the federal court. The result will generate unfounded pre-election voter confidence, as well as promote magical thinking which ultimately encourages officials’ inaction in the face of the high risk status quo of the touchscreen system.  But post-election, the losing side will inevitably latch onto the system’s inherent flaws and inability to confirm the election outcomes and kick up legitimate controversies.  

Raffensperger’s ”health checks” on this chronically ill system are at best misleading theatre, and have little prophylactic value for 2024 elections. In July 2021 the federal court sealed the 100-page expert report of the gravely serious vulnerabilities in the touchscreen system (Dominion version 5.5A) because of the court’s concern that the release of those findings could potentially inform would-be attackers. DHS/CISA then validated the expert’s report in June 2022, recommending immediate mitigation of the security flaws to reduce the chance of a successful attack. Raffensperger and the State Elections Board did absolutely nothing to mitigate the vulnerabilities validated by the federal government’s topic cybersecurity officials. And those officials recently told the court that they would not undertake the federal agency’s recommended system security mitigations until 2025. 

Raffensperger bizarrely claims his “health checks” will ensure that the (highly flawed) 5.5A software (which CISA said needed prompt remediation) is properly installed in the system for 2024. That should be of cold comfort to voters. Raffensperger is signaling to would-be attackers that they have until 2025 to have their way with the system, essentially inviting a 2024 cyberattack.  

Taking four years to even partially mitigate exploitable flaws is reckless. The vulnerability to certifying the wrong winners can be mitigated by use of the state’s well-drafted straightforward emergency balloting procedures, while saving millions of dollars of 2024 election administrative costs. No new equipment is required. Just put the high-risk touchscreens in storage and use reliable hand marked ballots and current scanners, subject to audits.

Touchscreen audits can’t determine winners 

It is imperative to understand that Georgia’s touchscreen system absolutely cannot be audited to determine who won an election, no matter Raffensperger’s unsupportable “audit” claims. The current system is extremely vulnerable to manipulation or Election Day shutdown. (Ballots marked by hand are not!) The so-called “audits” that Raffensperger touts do not stand up to scrutiny. They can test very little of importance. Unfortunately, Raffensperger persuaded the General Assembly to pass audit provisions in 2023’s SB 129 diluting and degrading the already inadequate post-election audit requirements. 

So, in 2024, the General Assembly must reverse Raffensperger’s irresponsible audit-weakening provisions to provide reasonable voter confidence.  

The state’s well-tested back up system of scanning hand marked ballots can be audited and winners confirmed. The back-up balloting rules were designed for an emergency just like the one Georgia faces. Why not deploy it in the face of the likely high-stakes nationally watched 2024 Georgia elections, and call on the General Assembly to mandate effective audits before the March primary?   

The 2024 elections are alarmingly at risk given that the system is inherently unsafe as the court found in 2020.  CISA validated vulnerabilities that need immediate mitigations were required a year ago but met with inaction.  The risks detailed by these authoritative writings were escalated dramatically by the breaches of the Georgia voting system, with the software in the hands of former President Donald Trump’s allies and a host of bad actors, some of whom are under criminal investigations in other states for unauthorized possession and distribution of voting software. (These groups already have the Georgia “answers to next year’s test.”) Check out Dr. Alex Halderman’s reports about the system, including the dangerous impacts of the Coffee County breaches. You will be stunned by the state of the system deficiencies being ignored by state officials. 

Our organization isn’t aware of any experts (even those engaged by the state) who support Raffensperger’s plans to avoid mitigations. That’s why Georgia leaders simply need the courage to admit the touchscreen system security problems and put their well-thought-out back-up plans in place. And do it quickly.  

Marilyn Marks, an independent, is the executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance.

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