Reform activists sued Georgia officials on July 3, demanding that the state’s elections system be immediately retired. Four days later, technicians at Kennesaw State University, which administers the elections, destroyed a key piece of evidence — wiping clean an elections management server.
The server, holding data on Georgia’s 6.7 million voters and files used to stage elections, had been exposed on the open internet for at least six months. A security expert, Logan Lamb, first alerted officials to the gaping vulnerability in August 2016, but it had gone unpatched.
It’s necessary to preserve the data to know whether the server might have been hacked and the outcome of last November’s election and a special House vote on June 20 altered. Data on the server included passwords used by county officials to access elections management files.
The Associated Press obtained a Sept. 18 e-mail written by an assistant state attorney general to lawyers in the case. The AP also was given 180 pages of e-mail exchanges among election administrators that were obtained in an open records request. The documents confirmed the irretrievable deletion not just of the main server but also of two backups on Aug. 9.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp — a Republican running for governor in 2018 — oversees Georgia’s elections and is the main defendant. On Thursday, he blamed the wipe on “the undeniable ineptitude” of Kennesaw State’s elections center. His spokeswoman said that Kemp’s office did not order the destruction.
Kennesaw State officials refused to comment.
E-mails in the open records request show that a senior university engineer instructed technicians to wipe the server’s hard drives.
The FBI, which made an image of the server when it temporarily took custody in March, would not say whether it retained that copy — or whether it has done a forensic examination to determine whether the server was accessed by hackers.
The state attorney general’s office notified the court Wednesday of its intent to subpoena the FBI for the image.
Legal briefs are due Oct. 30, after which Presiding Judge Amy Totenberg will weigh their motion to dismiss the case. Georgia’s legislature is discussing replacing the state’s 15-year-old elections system.