Judge might order paper voter lists for Georgia's election

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Voters had a long wait, some two to three hours, at the Park Tavern polling place on Tuesday, June 9, 2020 in Atlanta. - JOHN SPINK/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS

ATLANTA — A federal judge indicated in court Friday that she’s considering whether to require paper backup copies of voter information at Georgia polling places, a move that could help keep lines moving if there are problems on Election Day.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg said paper backups of registration lists could help protect voters who are facing problems with voting computers or long waits to vote.

“The longer the lines are, the more likely the people are to leave,” Totenberg said during a court hearing conducted via Zoom. A paper backup “seems like a reasonable way of thinking about something concrete to do.”

Some voters had to wait hours to vote in Georgia’s June 9 primary because of a combination of high turnout, poll closures, social distancing, absentee ballot problems and difficulties operating voting equipment.

Totenberg was weighing several motions by election security activists, including efforts to discard Georgia’s new $104 million voting system and require updated paper voter registration lists at polling places.

Election officials told Totenberg that replacing the state’s new voting system, which relies on touchscreens to print paper ballots, with hand-marked paper ballots would be difficult at this point, less than eight weeks before Election Day.

But they had fewer criticisms of paper voter registration backups.

“You could cut a line down pretty quickly if you had extra paper pollbooks and if you had emergency ballots,” testified Richard Barron, Fulton County’s elections director.

State Elections Director Chris Harvey said he doesn’t object to creating an updated digital list of voters and giving it to county election offices to print out and use in local polling places. But he said the secretary of state’s office wouldn’t be able to handle distributing paper lists across the state so close to the election.

Georgia already requires some paper voter registration lists, but plaintiffs in the case argue they’re insufficient and outdated. Each precinct is also required to have a supply of emergency paper ballots that could be used during a crisis.

The plaintiffs want voter lists that are updated the Saturday before Election Day, which would reflect who had cast absentee ballots or voted early up to that point.

Then if poll workers struggle to operate voter check-in tablets, a problem that contributed to lines during Georgia’s primary, election officials could refer to paper voter lists to determine whether someone is registered and if they’ve already cast a ballot.

Poll workers would still have to call county election offices in many cases to ensure voters aren’t attempting to vote twice. But voters shown as having already voted wouldn’t be allowed to cast a second ballot.

Totenberg didn’t immediately make a ruling Friday.

She has previously ruled against efforts to switch in-person voters to hand-marked paper ballots, though she has kept the door open for court action, criticizing state election officials for security vulnerabilities.

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©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)