Earlier this year, Georgia’s Secure, Accessible, and Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission held a public meeting at the state capitol to answer a pressing question: What should Georgia do to replace its aging touch-screen voting machines, as well as other parts of its election system? In the preceding years, security vulnerabilities in the state’s election system had been repeatedly exposed: by Russian operatives, friendly hackers, and even a Georgia voter who, just days ahead of the 2018 midterms, revealed that anyone could go online and gain access to the state’s voter-registration database.
Computer scientists and election experts from around the country weighed in during the seven months of the commission’s deliberations on the issue. They submitted letters and provided testimony, sharing the latest research and clarifying technical concepts tied to holding safe, reliable elections. Their contributions were underscored by the commission member Wenke Lee, a co-director of Georgia Tech’s Institute for Information Security and Privacy and the group’s only computer scientist.
Despite this, the commission ultimately did not recommend measures backed by Lee and his colleagues at places such as Stanford, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and Google—including the recommendation that the state return to a system of paper ballots filled out by hand, combined with what scientists call “risk-limiting audits.” Instead, the commission recommended buying a system that included another, more expensive touch-screen voting machine that prints a paper ballot. Months later, Lee is at a loss to explain. “I don’t understand why they still don’t understand,” he says.