ATLANTA – A federal judge will soon decide whether Georgia’s hotly contested Dominion voting machines were hacked and violated voters’ constitutional rights, a decision that threatens to upend the state’s election procedures in a battleground state heading into the 2024 presidential campaign.
A sprawling six-year legal battle over the integrity of Georgia’s elections reached a decision Thursday afternoon in a federal courthouse in Atlanta that could undermine voter confidence in the election system and fuel unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud. right.
The trial is not about massive voter fraud that former President Donald Trump alleged took place there in 2020 — those claims failed in the months after the election — and no actual fraud or abuse was proven in the trial. Rather, the issue is whether the system is reasonably vulnerable to hacking and errors that violate voters’ constitutional rights.
A good government group brought the suit in 2017, long before Trump began blaming Dominion voting machines for his 2020 loss. Still, the trial — and specifically the testimony of cybersecurity expert J. Alex Halderman, who demonstrated a dramatic machine hack in open court — has been seized upon by his allies on the right as evidence of election conspiracy theories.
In 2019, US District Judge Amy Totenberg banned the state from using the last all-digital voting system due to security concerns about the paperless system. The State purchased and implemented the existing Dominion system $107 million contract, which includes ballot marking devices that allow voters to make their choices on electronic voting machines. The machines then print receipts with a plain-text summary of voters’ choices and QR codes that ballot scanners use to count voters’ choices.
In closing arguments and at trial, plaintiffs argued that the machines burdened voters and made fraud possible. QR codes can hide a hacked election, and voters won’t even check their ballot receipts to confirm their votes were cast correctly. The plaintiffs want the state to switch from the current system to hand-marked paper ballots. and urged the judge to repeat his previous decision to ban the current system.
“They have a fundamental lack of understanding of election security, and that’s scary,” said David Cross, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
The state pointed to security measures it says make a hacked election virtually impossible, election audits that look at written results on the ballot rather than QR codes, and state rules that require poll workers to urge voters to check their ballots as well.
“We’re not saying it’s impossible, but the reason they don’t measure the risk is because they can’t,” defense attorney Josh Belinfante said.
Totenberg, who was appointed to the district court by President Barack Obama, wearily quipped in court Wednesday that the case has been going on “forever.” In a ruling in November, he said he did not believe the plaintiffs had the legal authority to force the hand-marked election system they wanted.
“The court cannot order the Georgia legislature to enact a law creating a paper ballot system or to enforce a statewide ballot system as injunctive relief in this case,” he said.
But he suggested there are conveniences he can offer, such as ballots without additional checks or QR codes.
Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer of the Georgia secretary of state’s office, testified Wednesday that an election year overhaul of the election system will be a “nightmare” because of all the training and new policies and procedures the state will have to implement quickly. (Presidential elections in Georgia will be held on March 12.)
“You’re — especially in Fulton County — you’re going to disenfranchise thousands of people, and I don’t think anybody wants that,” he said Wednesday, arguing that the state system is efficient and safe. Fulton County is home to Georgia’s largest city, Atlanta.
It led to hand-marked paper ballots a battle that lasted about eight months He asked who won a seat in the Minnesota Senate in 2008.
Whatever Totenberg rules, it could force the state into a contested presidential election cycle with an election system that a federal judge doesn’t trust. Some on the right have already argued that the case itself is evidence of fraud.
“I can take off my tinfoil hat, that’s what that judge said. We’re not conspiracy theory people anymore, thank God,” MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell said on a podcast in November while wearing an actual tinfoil hat.
Lindell, a purveyor of foam pillows and conspiracy theories about election fraud, is one of those on the right who have defended the allegations, and Halderman’s research in particular.
In court in January, Halderman used a stolen pen to quickly bypass the election software and access the machine’s operating system in seconds, before switching the machine’s voice from George Washington to former British Revolutionary War officer Benedict Arnault. . The hack required limited and cheap supplies, he testified.
The state tried to discredit Halderman’s investigation, arguing that real security measures would have prevented the hacks he testified about, which he prepared after spending three months with the Fulton County election machine.
In a statement, a spokesman for Dominion defended its machines.
“Mr. Halderman’s experience didn’t happen in the real world, and there was more to it than his BIC pen. By court order, Halderman was given all the passwords, security cards, accurate election documents, etc.—everything he needed to try to cause trouble. He also had the actual faced none of the multiple mandated physical and operational safeguards in place during the election,” the spokesperson said in part.
Deidre Holden, Paulding County’s longtime supervisor of elections, echoed that sentiment, noting that election workers oversee voter interactions with ballots. But headlines about hacked cars cast doubt on his case and reminded him of the 2020 and 2021 elections, when he and others faced graphic, violent threats.
“The court only fuels the fire. It needs to be resolved and we need to move on,” he said.
Holden noted that the annual election workers’ conference, which once focused on discussions about election best practices and provisional ballots, now includes active shooter training, briefings from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and instructions on how to administer Narcan. fentanyl is sent to election workers.
“It’s become our reality,” he said.
It is a reality that the conversation about election integrity is complicated at best, and that electoral systems are either completely safe or unsafe.
“We think driving is safe because nothing bad ever happens to cars, but because we know how to manage that risk. We’ll all be better off when people think the same way about election technology,” said Mark Lindeman, director of policy and strategy at Verified Voting, a group that promotes the responsible use of technology in elections.
Risks can be managed, he stressed. “Georgia is not falling off a precipice towards certain disaster. Nothing is too scary here. But yes, Georgia could probably do better.”