ATLANTA — Georgia's Secretary of State, now running for governor, is pushing to replace the state's voting machines after years of declaring the current system safe.
Brian Kemp established the Secure, Accessible and Fair Elections Commission in April to study a replacement for Georgia's current electronic touchscreen system, which does not create an auditable paper record, after efforts to get replacements installed in time for this year's elections failed.
The group will meet for the first time June 13, and will review options including touchscreens that print paper ballots, and ballots marked by hand with a pen.
Kemp, who is locked in a heated runoff against Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle for the GOP nomination for governor, has been accused by election integrity activists of mismanaging state elections as Georgia's top elections official through poor oversight and in resisting the transparency they say is necessary to instill faith in the process.
In 2015, Kemp's office inadvertently released the social security numbers and other identifying information of millions of Georgia voters. Kemp's office blamed a clerical error.
His office made headlines again last year after security experts disclosed a gaping security hole that wasn't fixed until six months after it was first reported to election authorities. Personal data was again exposed for Georgia's 6.7 million voters, as were passwords used by county officials to access files.
Secretary of State spokesman Candice Broce laid the blame for that breach squarely on Kennesaw State University, who managed the system. "It was not our system. It was not our equipment. It was not our network," Broce said.
Broce said Kemp's office was not made aware of the incident until March 2017, after the initial discovery was reported in August 2016.
"We were not notified, however, when KSU officials were apparently first warned by an outside source of potential server vulnerabilities. This failure in communication was inexcusable," Broce said.
Broce also objected to the accuracy of this report, saying "The Associated Press failed to conduct basic fact-checking for this article before publishing it. This story, now in its third iteration, remains factually inaccurate."
Georgia's current centrally managed elections system lacks a verifiable paper trail that can be audited in the event of problems; the state is one of just five nationwide that continues to rely exclusively on aged electronic voting machines that computer scientists have long criticized as untrustworthy because they are easily hacked and don't leave a paper trail.
Critics said a Senate measure to replace the machines didn't go far enough to ensure transparency.
At this point, any change would not affect this year's elections, and any new system would likely be overseen by the next Secretary of State.