A US judge has OK'd the use of paperless electronic voting machines in Georgia – despite being "gravely concerned" about the state's ability to defend them from hackers.
District Judge Amy Totenberg said in a ruling (PDF) issued Tuesday that the state would be allowed to use the machines to collect and tabulate votes in this November's mid-term elections, as there simply wasn't enough time to get a paper-based voting system set up.
The judgment was handed down in a lawsuit filed in Georgia that attempted to block the use of the electronic ballot boxes in the US state.
"While Plaintiffs have shown the threat of real harms to their constitutional interests, the eleventh-hour timing of their motions and an instant grant of the paper ballot relief requested could just as readily jeopardize the upcoming elections, voter turnout, and the orderly administration of the election," Totenberg wrote.
"Defendants introduced substantial evidence from Elections Directors from counties with major populations regarding the fiscal, organizational, and practical impediments and burdens associated with a court order that would require immediate implementation of paper ballot and ballot scanning voting systems for the 2018 election cycle."
This despite the judge's scathing assessment of the plan to use the paperless voting machines. Among the issues Totenberg cited were a lack of audit trails, and that security vulnerabilities in the state's Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting system were yet to be fully fixed.
"The Court is gravely concerned about the State’s pace in responding to the serious vulnerabilities of its voting system – which were raised as early as 2016 – while aging software arrangements, hardware, and other deficiencies were evident still earlier," she noted.
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The ruling strikes down a request from plaintiff Donna Curling, who filed suit against Georgia's Secretary of State Brian Kemp seeking to have the insecure DRE machines barred from use via an injunction. Curling's team has already filed an appeal of the judgment.
Though the ruling will allow the November election to take place using the disputed e-voting machines, Totenberg suggested the state will have to introduce a more secure voting system that includes a paper trail ahead of the 2020 elections.
"Advanced persistent threats in this data-driven world and ordinary hacking are unfortunately here to stay," the judge wrote.
"Defendants will fail to address that reality if they demean as paranoia the research-based findings of national cybersecurity engineers and experts in the field of elections. Nor will surface-level audit procedures address this reality when viruses and malware alter data results and evade or suppress detection." ®