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Mokah Speaks: Protecting the vote and the need for paper ballot backups in 2020

By Mokah-Jasmine Johnson

In 2018, Georgia’s electoral process was thrust into the national spotlight for its suppression of minority votes and failing to ensure a fair election. Between 2010 and 2018, 1.6 million voters in Georgia had their registrations purged, many without their knowledge. Georgia has closed over 214 polling places since 2012, 75 percent of which were in counties with a majority African American population.

Today we see new assaults on the integrity of our election process in Georgia. Gov. Brian Kemp and his administration have decided to roll out entirely new electronic voting machines before the primary election on March 24th, against the recommendation of election and cyber security experts across the country.

Here’s how these new machines work: A voter checks in by scanning their ID to check their registration. The voter can then use a large touch screen machine to input and review their selected candidates. Once the voter is satisfied with their choices, the machine prints a receipt with a text listing with the voter’s choices as well as a QR computer code. That receipt must then be scanned at another machine before the vote is tallied.

Here’s why I’m worried: Voters’ right to privacy at the poll booth is at risk. With machines arriving only weeks before the upcoming election, poll workers may not be adequately prepared to operate and troubleshoot the new machines. Voters may be confused by the new machines and the two-step process. With poll workers and voters learning a new system, election accountability and oversight will be incredibly difficult.

In addition, according to reports from the local election in November, the new touch-screen machines were so bright that they could be seen and read from up to 30 feet away. This raises privacy concerns and increases worries about voter intimidation, especially for voters who may be in the minority party in their district.

Georgia is rushing to install 30,000 voting machines, 30,000 printers, 3,500 scanners, and 8,000 electronic voter registration terminals. The secretary of state promises full delivery of machines by Feb. 8. Even if delivered on time, that leaves only three weeks to set up and train before early voting begins for the March primary.

As a member of the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections, I proposed a “Plan B” for voters in our county to use hand-marked paper ballots if Athens Clarke County Board of Elections is not prepared to adequately execute for the March elections. This plan was successfully piloted in Cobb County last November, which included using paper ballots and scanners.

This isn’t a controversial proposition. A federal judge recently mandated that paper ballots must be used for the presidential primary in March if voting machines are not set up in all 159 counties in Georgia. We need a back-up plan to ensure that every Georgian can participate in this election.

I’m frustrated that the current administration in Georgia continues to fail to ensure that our elections are free and fair. As we near the March elections, I’m working hard to ensure that every voice in our district is heard.

Want to make sure your voice is heard? Want to protect your vote? Here are some additional upcoming demonstrations of how to use the new voting machines.

Has your voter registration been purged? Check here to make sure you are still registered.

Frustrated with how the election is being run? Call Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office today to express your concerns at (844) 753-7825.

Mokah-Jasmine Johnson is President of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, vice president of United Group of Artists Music Association/Athens Hip Hop Awards and is a candidate for Georgia House of Representatives’ District 117

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