Court Hearing: Georgia
In a hearing conducted this morning in federal court in Georgia, the Secretary of State’s (SOS’s) office and the Coalition for Good Governance (CFGG) sparred over errors already found in the new $104 million (at least) electronic voting machine system Brian Kemp’s government bought and paid for with taxpayer money.
On Friday, the SOS’s office issued a bulletin to all of Georgia’s 159 counties telling them to stop Logistics and Analysis (L&A) testing of election devices and systems. The SOS’s office said that an error had been uncovered in the database and the entire database would have to be replaced.
The error had evidently caused candidates in a multi-candidate race to disappear from the screen, the “disappearing colum” problem.
In court on Monday morning the SOS’S office changed their position and said that would not have to replace the database. They were instead changing the software.
This information was news to the Coalition for Good Governance (CFGG). They, like the rest of the public, were under the assumption that the database would be replaced. Lawyers for CFGG argued that changing of the software after voting had already begun was an even more serious problem than replacing the database.
And, CFGG argued that there was not (as the SOS’S office had maintained) just one problem. There were three problems uncovered by Georgia counties once they started testing. According to CFGG, the State had disclosed one problem but not all of the problems.
Three Problems Not Just One
As lawyers for CFGG pointed out, the State had disclosed only one problem but not two other problems that CFGG had been made aware of.
Because of a subpoena, lawyers for CFGG were supposed to witness the testing of a scanner in Cherokee County, Georgia. But, when CFGG contacted Cherokee County to arrange for this witnessing, officials told them that they could come but that the scanner wasn’t recording votes. This problem was a different problem than the “disappearing column” one reported to the press by the SOS. The attorney for CFGG noted that he had talked with officials in Cherokee County Monday morning and the scanner was still not working.
The other, third problem the SOS was not disclosing was a problem in Irwin County, where votes for a write-in candidate were not registering at all.
Lawyers for the SOS’S office basically dismissed concerns expressed over all of the problems, accusing the CFGG of making mountains out of molehills.
The Seriousness of the Problem
In the hearing, the SOS repeatedly minimized the seriousness of the problems and expressed contempt for the lawyers at CFGG. At one point, the SOS’s office argued that the robustness of their testing ensured that problems like the “disappearing columns” problem would not only be found but would be corrected.
The CFGG argued, however, that just because one needle is found hidden in the haystack, that doesn’t mean that the location of all the other needles was known. The SOS found out about the “disappearing column” problem, argued the CFGG attorney by accident, a “freakish” discovery. Just because this problem was uncovered in testing that didn’t mean that ALL problems were discovered or wound be discovered. There is no way of knowing how many other problems there are out there that haven’t been reported or have been dismissed.
The SOS’s office repeatedly in the hearing tried to behave as if the “disappearing column” problem was the only problem and that this problem was “diminimus” meaning not very serious. Evidently in state law, if a problem with the voting system is deemed to be “diminimus” then there are certain actions that aren’t required. In other words, if the problem is deemed not to be serious, serious actions doesn’t need to be taken.
SOS officials argued that some testing lab (what lab?) found the “disappearing column” problem to be “diminimus.” What we don’t know is what procedure was used for declaring the problem to be “diminimus?” And, this completely ignores the other problems.
Anybody with a brain would question this determination. Who decides that a problem with the election system is “not serious” as opposed to “serious?” What are the rules about establishing a “serious” as opposed to a “non serious” problem.
But, in court this morning, the SOS’s office tried to trivialize these questions and also to assert dominion over the issue. Gabriel Sterling, for the SOS;s office, stated: “That is how it’s done and that is how we will continue to do it.” The authoritarian tone of that statement is inescapable.
The “Disappearing Column” Problem
As mentioned earlier, the State’s argument in the hearing was that the system’s testing regime is so “robust” that it found the “disappearing column” problem and that it will find all the other possible problems.
The State argued that the “disappearing column” problem occurred only when a specific behavior pattern is exhibited by the voter. What this means is that if the voter is looking at the screen where the state has listed multiple candidates and then flips back a screen to look at a previous screen (for example, to double check a choice) that is when the “disappearing screen” occurs. My understanding from the hearing is that the State maintains that the “disappearing screen” doesn’t happen every time a voter goes back a screen, just sometimes.
This is a $104 million (at least) voting system. But, voters moving back and forth between screens either checking a previous choice or through error, throws the entire system into chaos and makes legally eligible candidates disappear off the voting screen. The State argued that voters rarely choose to move back to check another screen. But, THEY DON’T KNOW THIS. How would they know this?
And why with a $104 system, hasn’t somebody thought about the possibility of a voter flipping back a screen? Flipping from screen to screen is something that anybody who uses a computer does every day. $104 million and this is a problem?
The Numbers in the Name Problem
Not only have the architects of a $104 million system not ever thought of the possibility of voters flipping back and forth between screens, they also haven’t thought of other possibilities. The “disappearing column” problem is one issue and evidently the one the State of Georgia has chosen to deal with. But there are two other problems.
In Irwin County, election officials were so conscientious in their testing that they made sure that every write-in candidate would be recorded. Because the state certifies qualified write-in candidates and sends a list to county officials, the head of elections in Irwin county decided to check those names against the machines.
What he found was that one write-in candidate couldn’t be chosen. The machine wouldn’t accept the choice. The reason? The candidate had numbers in his name. Using a $104 million voting system, this is a problem. The candidate chose to use the name PresidentR19boddie. Why? I have no idea.
But, because the officials in Irwin County were conscientious, they made sure that a vote for any of the write-in candidates would be recorded. What they found was that the program would only allow letters, not numerals. Again, this is a $104 million voting system.
The Scanner Problem in Cherokee County
Because of a subpoena granted in the lawsuit brought by CFGG, experts from CFGG were supposed to witness the functioning or testing of a scanner in Cherokee County. When lawyers from CFGG contacted Cherokee County to arrange this witnessing, the officials told CFGG that they could come to Cherokee county, but the scanner wasn’t working.
According to lawyers from CFGG speaking during the hearing on Monday morning, they contacted the SOS’s office multiple times during the weekend to alert them to the problem in Cherokee County. The SOS’s office ignored them and didn’t even respond. Lawyers from the CFGG pointed out to the State that this problem was different from the one the State was alerting counties about with the “disappearing columns.” But, as the lawyers from CFGG characterized it there were “crickets.”
In the hearing, lawyers for the SOS’s office maintained that they were not aware of the problem in Cherokee County. Lawyers for the CFGG pointed out that they had repeatedly notified the state and had talked to Cherokee County on Monday morning and confirmed that the scanner was still not working.
The CFGG attorneys also pointed out in the hearing that whatever the problems were, even after the bulletin issued by the SOS’s office to stop L&A analysis, some counties were proceeding. So, it appeared that some counties hadn’t even understood the bulletin. There was confusion among the county officials.
In the end, SOS officials claimed that they were going to change not the database, as they had told the counties on Friday, but the software. In the hearing at least the question of who was going to approve of, check, and certify this change in software was not answered.
Elections security expert Jennifer Cohn argued that this change of the software was even more serious and fraught with potential for security risks than a change in the database.