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Judge orders emergency paper backups of voting records in Georgia

By Mark Niesse, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

A federal judge on Monday required paper backups of voter registration and absentee voting information at every Georgia polling place, a safeguard to allow voters to continue casting ballots if computers fail on Election Day.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ordered election officials to prepare paper copies of records showing who is registered to vote and whether they’ve already voted before Nov. 3, either by absentee ballot or during in-person early voting.

The ruling could help prevent long lines if poll workers struggle with the state’s new voter check-in tablets, called Poll Pads, as they did during the state’s June 9 primary, Totenberg wrote. Some voters waited for hours because of a combination of high turnout, poll closures, social distancing, absentee ballot problems and difficulties operating voting equipment.

“It is not too late for defendants to take these reasonable concrete measures to mitigate the real potential harms that would otherwise likely transpire at precinct polling locations grappling with the boiling brew created by the combination of new voting equipment issues and old voter data system deficiencies,” Totenberg wrote.

State election officials opposed more paper backups, saying printouts of thousands of pages of documents would strain county poll workers trying to run the biggest election in state history during the coronavirus health crisis. Turnout is expected to reach 5 million voters.

While paper voter registration lists were already required at precincts before Totenberg’s ruling, they didn’t contain records of who had already voted in the election. That information is accessible on Poll Pads, but if they’re not functioning, that could severely slow the voting process. Poll workers would have to issue provisional ballots to voters if their registration information can’t be verified.

A paper list showing who has voted or requested an absentee ballot would allow poll workers to continue allowing eligible voters to move through lines, according to Totenberg’s ruling. Voters who never requested an absentee ballot would be able to vote immediately; others could cancel their absentee ballots and then vote.

Printed-out voter registration lists could also help avoid a repeat of problems seen in the 2018 election, when voters reported inaccurate registration information. Some voters said they were listed as not registered or they were assigned to the wrong precinct.

She ordered the secretary of state’s office to create voter registration lists and absentee voting records after in-person voting ends the Friday before Election Day. Then county election offices will be required to print out those lists and provide them at each precinct.