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Georgia lawmakers consider bills to remove computer codes from ballots

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s state House and Senate are pursuing separate bills to remove barcodes from most of the state’s ballots, part of a continuing Republican pushback against Georgia’s voting machines.

The Senate Ethics Committee voted 8-2 on Thursday to advance Senate Bill 189 to the full Senate. It’s aimed at requiring new optical scanners that would read the printed text on ballots, rather than a QR code, a type of barcode. A House committee is considering a separate measure that has not yet advanced.

Both bills, as currently drafted, would take effect July 1, although Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has repeatedly said it would be impossible to alter the state’s electronic voting system before the November presidential election.

“I’d love to see it in November ’24,” Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Max Burns, a Sylvania Republican, said Thursday. “Is that realistic? Probably not, I concede that.”

All of Georgia’s state lawmakers face reelection in 2024. For many Republicans, the biggest electoral danger is an insurgent challenge from the right, and the party’s grassroots today are animated by demands for paper ballots to be marked and counted by hand.

When Georgia voters cast ballots in person, they use Dominion Voting Systems ballot marking devices, which then print a paper ballot with a QR code and text indicating the voter’s choices. Scanners then read the QR code to tabulate ballots. But many say they distrust the QR codes, saying voters can’t be sure that the QR codes match their choices.

Burns said his plan would require the state to buy more than 3,000 new scanners, at a cost of more than $10 million.

“I believe the investment would be worth the intent and the achievement of this goal,” Burns said.

After the 2020 election, supporters of former President Donald Trump spread wild conspiracy theories about Dominion voting machines, arguing the equipment had been used to steal the election from him. The company has responded aggressively with lawsuits, notably reaching a $787 million settlement with Fox News in April.

That distrust has only grown after expert witness Alex Halderman demonstrated during a federal trial last week how someone could tamper with a Dominion machine to flip votes between candidates. The plaintiffs in that trial are trying to persuade a federal judge to prohibit further use of Dominion touchscreen voting machines. Voters would instead fill out paper ballots by hand.

Stephanie Walstrom, a spokesperson for Dominion, said in a statement Thursday that Halderman’s demonstration couldn’t be repeated under real world conditions, saying he “faced none of the numerous mandated physical and operational safeguards in place during actual elections.”

The company has released updated software which is supposed to address vulnerabilities. But Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has said there isn’t enough time in the busy 2024 election cycle to update all the voting machines.

Raffensperger last week proposed a separate audit system using optical character recognition software, but it’s not clear how that would work or how much it would cost. No one from Raffensperger’s office attended the Thursday Senate hearing.

Raffensperger told lawmakers last week that he supports a move to scan “human readable text,” the names printed on ballots, to count votes.

His proposed method for doing so involves buying more than 32,000 ballot printers statewide that could print longer ballots. His office has estimated that cost at $15 million.

But Raffensperger said it was impossible to make such a change before the November presidential election.

“You’re talking about major change, and just the timeframe…,” Raffensperger said. “We’re already in the election cycle of 2024.”

Jeff Amy, The Associated Press


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