NOTE: We held this week’s update so we could bring you the developments that took place over the past week and a half on HB 316 – the omnibus voting machines / election reform bill.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

Democracy is not a spectator sport. It’s often messy and chaotic but it works best when people show up and voice their concerns. Conversely, not speaking up ensures your views will be absent from the final accounting of a proposed policy.

HB 316 was a case in point. It was introduced and routed to the Elections Sub-committee of the House Governmental Affairs committee. A hearing was held and people concerned about ensuring election integrity showed up in droves to comment. The crowd was so large, testimony and discussion took seven hours over three days.

Ultimately, the amended bill, moving with lightening speed, passed out of sub-committee on Thursday morning and was in full committee by Thursday afternoon. There was no public commenting during the full committee but discussion amongst committee members was robust and two amendments were approved unanimously before the bill passed out of committee along a party line vote.

While there are parts of the bill that have bipartisan support, the biggest point of contention remains around which voting machines Georgia should buy next. Republicans want to spend $150 Million on electronic ballot marking devices (BMDs) while Democrats support spending approximately $50 Million for a system that uses hand marked paper ballots (HMPBs).

The Republican-backed BMDs are concerning to Democrats and many Georgia voters because, when recording the votes, the BMDs read a barcode instead of the human-readable text on the ballot.

Why is that a big deal? Well, because humans can’t read barcodes, which means a voter can’t verify that the information encoded in the barcode actually matches the vote choices she has made.

Add to that the fact that at least two dozen cyber-security experts have stated that BMDs are less secure and offer more possible entry points for malevolent technological vote-tampering. These cyber-security experts all endorsed using hand-marked paper ballots as the most transparent and secure voting option.

So, it has been frustrating to watch some legislators summarily dismiss cyber-security experts’ recommendations and press ahead in favor of BMDs anyway.

In fact, that is precisely what happened in the House chamber yesterday. Before HB 316 was allowed to be considered by the full House, the Rules Committee limited debate on it to one hour and disallowed any amendments from being offered.

The bill passed along mostly partisan lines 101 to 72 and was immediately transmitted to the Senate to begin its process moving through that chamber.

Let me just say this: election integrity is not a partisan issue. It is the bedrock of our democracy, and every voter has a right to easily access voting with confidence that his or her ballot will be accurately counted. Voters must be able to trust all aspects of the voting system.

Through the vendor selection process, we must be vigilant to identify voting devices with the lowest error rate, the most transparent and accurate audit capability, and the easiest verification ability.

I hope you will stay tuned and remain in touch with me, your State Senator, Governor Kemp, and Secretary of State Raffensperger to voice your thoughts as the process continues.

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Representative Betsy Holland, House District 54

Thursday, February 28, 2019 will mark Day 24 of the Legislative Session.