Jim Zachary

The integrity of Georgia elections is on trial, literally. 

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg heard arguments this week as activists pushed the court to effectively shut down Georgia’s voting system until a paper ballot process is in place. But with local elections across the state this fall, what they are asking for would create a real boondoggle at the local level.

There is no denying that Georgia’s 17-year-old voting machines are flawed.

Voting rights activists who have brought this lawsuit are not wrong when they say the touchscreen voting machines that do not create a paper trail put the integrity of Georgia elections in question.

That is why the state is replacing them. However, that cannot be done in time for the 2019 elections.

Hopefully, new machines will be in place for the March 24 U.S. presidential primary.

During this year’s legislative session, Gov. Brian Kemp baked millions into the state budget to replace Georgia’s aging electronic voting machines.  It is money that has to be spent to safeguard elections in our state.

At that time, District 174 state Rep. John Corbett explained the importance of replacing the machines when he wrote, “The machines you and I are used to voting on presented a problem — we couldn’t see our votes after they were cast.”  Several lawmakers supported the notion of buying machines that generate an auditable paper trail so every voter can make sure the vote they cast is the vote they intended to cast.

It must be said that safeguarding elections goes beyond purchasing new voting machines.  Voting must be secure, accessible and fair to all.

The Georgia Secretary of State is charged with organizing and overseeing Georgia elections. That includes everything from voter registration to the execution of municipal, state, county and federal elections. The SOS must certify the qualifications of candidates and maintain a statewide voter registration database and ensure that voter registration lists are current statewide. It is also the Secretary of State’s responsibility to investigate election fraud and enforce state election laws. Politics should have no place in the oversight of our electoral process.

State lawmakers should do all that they can do to foster an environment for open, free and robust elections. Georgia’s “exact match” legislation has damaged Georgia elections and makes it harder, not easier, for legally registered voters to cast a vote in our state. That legislation alone has also resulted in costly lawsuits.

The General Assembly should have an open, candid, transparent, authentic public floor debate about exact match and explain to the people of Georgia just how it makes sense to potentially suppress votes over minor, insignificant variations in personal documents.

Lawmakers and elections offices should all want to make sure that all legally, registered voters in Georgia have easy access and are encouraged to cast a ballot.

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is CNHI’s regional editor for its Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Texas newspapers and editor of the Valdosta Daily Times. He is vice president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

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