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June 14 - Sen. Lester Jackson attends first "SAFE" Voting Machines Commission Meeting

Savannah Business Journal Staff Report

June 14, 2018 – The Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission held its first meeting Wednesday in Marietta, co-chaired by Secretary of State Brian Kemp and State Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem.  Sen. Lester G. Jackson of Savannah (pictured) is a member of the Commission, appointed by Kemp, who is responsible for the state’s voting process as Secretary of State.     

The committee has been tasked with studying options to modernize Georgia’s voting system. The current machines in use are digital-only, and lack any type of verifiable paper trail to conduct recounts. There is growing concern nationally that digital-only machines can be hacked, or if they fail, can disrupt an election. 

At the first meeting, it was clear that there are differing opinions on the solutions.  Options include returning to traditional pen-and-paper ballots, or to use a touchscreen machine that also prints out a paper ballot after a citizen has voted. 

The Commission will make a recommendation to the General Assembly session that opens in January 2019, with the goal of funding, ordering, installing and training on a new voting system statewide before the 2020 Presidential election cycle.  A bill to buy a new system failed during the 2018 session, leading to a compromise to create a Commission.  Georgia is only of only five states still using digital-only voting machines that have no paper trail. 

Depending on the type of system ultimately selected, cost estimates range between $30 mil to $150 mil, to be funded by the State.  However, a new system will also require extensive re-training by all election employees at the county and municipal level, those who actually run elections and early voting, and depending on the type of system selected, local election costs could rise significantly.  And, the retraining necessary will take time to complete, once a new system is installed.  A paper ballot only system, for example, would take s significantly larger number of election workers to complete a count, increasing election costs.  

The SAFE Commission heard from members of the public, and several local election officials at the Wednesday meeting. 

Kemp has already begun the process of soliciting bids from election machine companies, but the leadership on overseeing the bidding process, and working with the General Assembly on funding will be under a new Secretary of State, as Kemp has given up his office to run for Governor. 

The Members of the SAFE Commission are: 

Elected officials (5)

Secretary of State Brian Kemp

Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem

Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon

Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah

Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough

Election directors (6)

Lynn Bailey, Richmond County

Nancy Boren, Muscogee County

Maxine Daniels (retired), DeKalb County

Deidre Holden, Paulding County

Darin McCoy, Evans County

Cynthia Welch, Rockdale County

Political party representatives (3)

Michael Jablonski, Democratic Party of Georgia

John Monds, Libertarian Party of Georgia

Vincent Russo, Georgia Republican Party

Technology and cyber-security expert (1)

Wenke Lee, co-executive director, Georgia Tech’s Institute for Information Security & Privacy

Voter accessibility expert (1)

Amy Howell, assistant commissioner and general counsel, Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities

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