Voting machines in risk of breach, Georgia warned

ATLANTA -- A group of computer and election security experts is urging Georgia election officials to replace the state's touchscreen voting machines with hand-marked paper ballots ahead of the November midterm elections, citing what they say are "serious threats" posed by an apparent breach of voting equipment in one county.

The 13 experts sent a letter Thursday to the members of the State Election Board and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who's a nonvoting member of the board.

It urges them to immediately stop using the state's Dominion Voting Systems touchscreen voting machines. It also suggests they mandate a particular type of post-election audit on the outcome of all races on the ballot.

The experts who sent the letter include academics and former state election officials not associated with efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The midterm elections are just two months away. A switch to hand-marked paper ballots could easily be made by then because state law already provides for them to be used as an emergency backup, the letter says.

State Election Board Chair William Duffey responded in an email to The Associated Press that the "security of our election equipment is of paramount interest to the State Election Board as is the integrity of the election process in Georgia."

He noted that the alleged breach in Coffee County is being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and secretary of state's office investigators. He said the FBI has been asked to assist.

"Information developed will be considered to evaluate the impact of the Coffee County conduct," Duffey wrote.

Raffensperger's office has repeatedly said Georgia's elections remain secure because of security mechanisms. Spokesperson Mike Hassinger said in an email the office will respond "in due time with due care" and the response will be "addressed directly to the authors, rather than leaked to the media to obtain some sort of rhetorical advantage."

The apparent unauthorized copying of election equipment in Coffee County happened in January 2021. It is documented in emails, security camera footage and other records produced in response to subpoenas in a lawsuit that argues Georgia's voting machines are vulnerable and should be replaced by hand-marked paper ballots.

The copying and sharing of election data and software from Coffee County "increases both the risk of undetected cyber-attacks on Georgia, and the risk of accusations of fraud and election manipulation," the letter states.

The experts also cite work by University of Michigan computer science professor J. Alex Halderman, who serves as an expert witness in the long-running voting machines lawsuit. He has identified what he says are security vulnerabilities in Georgia's voting machines.

The Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in June issued an advisory based on Halderman's findings.

In addition to urging a switch to hand-marked paper ballots, the experts say a statewide post-election, risk-limiting audit should be done on all of the races on the ballot. A risk-limiting audit essentially uses a statistical approach to ensure that the reported results match the actual votes cast. Current rules require only one statewide contest to be audited.

Some of the experts who signed the letter sent to the Georgia State Election Board last year sent a similar letter to California's secretary of state ahead of a recall election urging a rigorous audit of that contest. The secretary of state did not act on the recommendations.

Information for this article was contributed by Christina A. Cassidy of The Associated Press.