Security was the most important thing. This system has three ways to recount or audit.Voter Education Coordinator Sharyl Sutton
SPRINGFIELD — Effingham County Director of Elections and Registration Olivia Morgan has received an important vote of confidence as Georgia prepares to unveil its new voting machines.
Morgan and her staff at 284 Ga. Hwy 119 South have conducted a pair of two-hour open houses for demonstrations of the machines and another one is slated Feb. 26 from 4-6 p.m.
Voter Education Coordinator Sharyl Sutton of the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office said, “Olivia is really doing a fantastic job. There are a handful of (county elections directors) who may have a machine to use in their office but they don’t advertise times for people to use it. They don’t have open houses like she is having and she has also told me about opportunities that I could talk to people while her people are in training.
“Those things have helped a lot in Effingham County. Olivia is a wonderful election supervisor.”
Election officials in each of Georgia’s 159 counties must have their machines unpacked and tested for accuracy, plus make sure their staffs and volunteer poll workers are trained on the new system before people arrive March 2 for early voting for the March 24 presidential primaries.
The March 24 ballot also includes a $100 million bond referendum for the Effingham County School District.
Georgia has invested $107 million in 33,000 touch-screen machines and printers, 3,000 scanners and lockable ballot boxes, 7,500 Poll Pads a high-speed and electronic management system for each county, as well as the necessary cables.
House Bill 316 allotted $150 million for the project, which was won by Dominion Voting Systems, one of three bidders. The purchase price includes software updates for up to a decade.
The new machines require voters to select their choices on a touchscreen, then print out a paper ballot that’s scanned by another machine to record their votes. The old machines that Georgia used for 18 years were touchscreen-only and produced no paper trail that could be audited.
“Security was the most important thing,” Sutton said. “This system has three ways to recount or audit. First, you have the paper ballot itself, which is secured in that ballot box and lock.
“It also has the QR (quick response) code, like a bar code, which represents all the choices made for the different races. We ask, too, that voters check out the human readable part before they put it in the scanner because that is were it actually tabulates.
“So you have the paper ballot, the scanner and the QR code, and the scanner actually has a camera that takes a picture of every single ballot. That way if they need a backup, then they will have that. That’s the three ways.”
The system has already be used in Los Angeles County, which has about the same number of people as Georgia (10.4 million).
“They have been using this system so we are not a pioneer in purchasing it and using it but we are one of the few states in the country where everybody uses the same system,” Sutton said. “There are like only six other states where everybody uses the same system. There are some states where people use paper ballots, some are using the DREs, which are direct recording where the information goes from one computer to another but there is no paper or image to back it up or recount.”
Sutton, who represents 17 counties in the Savannah and Augusta area, said Georgia has been an election innovator since Cathy Cox was secretary of state in 2002.
“She put us under the old system and it worked good for 18 years but technology — it’s like a flip phone — it’s outdated,” Sutton said. “That’s why there was a change and there was a demand. People wanted a paper ballot.”
The new system was used in six Georgia municipal elections in November 2019. Sutton monitored one in Valdosta.
“It went really nice,” she said. “We did learn a few things in that process.”
The system was also used in the ensuing December runoffs and a pair January races for General Assembly seats that were vacated by death.
“We already done audits, statistical audits, and the most recent one was right on the money. It was completely accurate,” Sutton said, “We not only did an audit of the paper ballots, but we did audits of the absentee ballots and the provisional ballots. It was all 100 percent, so we feel really good.”