Georgia to replace voting machines in Coffee County after alleged security breach

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Friday that he intends to replace some election equipment in a south Georgia county where forensics experts working last year for pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell copied virtually every component of the voting system.

Raffensperger (R) said his office will replace machines in Coffee County “to allay the fears being stoked by perennial election deniers and conspiracy theorists.” He added that anyone who broke the law in connection with unauthorized access to Coffee County’s machines should be punished, “but the current election officials in Coffee County have to move forward with the 2022 election, and they should be able to do so without this distraction .”

Some election-security experts have voiced concerns that the copying of the Coffee County software — used statewide in Georgia — risks exposing the entire state to hackers, who could use the copied software as a road map to find and exploit vulnerabilities. Raffensperger’s office has said that security protocols would make it virtually impossible for votes to be manipulated without detection.

The move comes after Raffensperger’s office spent months voicing skepticism that such a security breach ever occurred in Coffee County. “There’s no evidence of any of that. It didn’t happen,” Gabe Sterling, Raffensperger’s chief operations officer, said at a public event in April.

Since then, the fact that outsiders accessed county voting machines — and copied sensitive software and data — has been confirmed by sworn depositions, video surveillance footage from inside and outside of the county elections office and other documents turned over to plaintiffs in long-running civil litigation over election security in Georgia. The plaintiffs argue that the state should replace touch-screen voting machines with hand-marked paper ballots. Raffensperger and other Georgia officials are defendants in that case. They deny that the voting system is insecure.

The announcement said that Coffee County would receive new “ballot-marking devices,” the touch-screen voting machines that voters use to make their selections; printers for paper ballots with voters’ selections; ballot scanners used in precincts; electronic poll pads used to check in voters at polling places; and flash cards and thumb drives.

Two pieces of equipment that were accessed by the forensic experts in Coffee County — a central ballot scanner and the election management system server used to tally results — had already been replaced by Raffensperger’s office in June 2021.

Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, a plaintiff in the civil litigation, said leaving those two pieces of equipment in place is “wildly ineffective.” They have been used during elections with the “presumably contaminated” devices that are now being replaced, and now could be contaminated themselves, she said.

Election machines undergo testing that is intended to ensure they are counting votes accurately. No evidence of altered results has emerged from that testing in Coffee County since the copying, Sterling said.

Before the announcement, Susan Greenhalgh, a senior adviser for election security for the nonprofit Free Speech for People and a consulting expert for the Coalition for Good Governance, said that replacing the machines in Coffee County is necessary but not sufficient to stem the risk to election security in Georgia.

“You still have the overall problem that the software has been released into the wild to countless individuals who may have ill intent and who may be using it to figure out ways to manipulate an election,” Greenhalgh told reporters at a news briefing earlier this week .

Video footage shows that a team from Atlanta-based SullivanStrickler spent about eight hours at the county elections office on Jan. 7, 2021, copying software from Dominion Voting Systems equipment and data from multiple memory sticks and other devices.

The county elections supervisor at the time told The Washington Post earlier this year that she allowed the team into the office to help find proof that the election “was not done true and correct.” The video footage also shows that Cathy Latham, then the chairwoman of the county Republican Party, greeted the SullivanStrickler team at the elections office and introduced them to local officials. Her lawyers de ella have denied that she participated in the Jan. 7 copying or did anything improper or illegal.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said it is investigating a suspected computer trespass of a Coffee County elections server that day. A special grand jury in Atlanta, which was already examining the “fake elector” scheme to keep President Donald Trump in power using bogus electoral certificates, has recently expanded its inquiry episode to take in the Coffee County.

The grand jury has issued subpoenas including to Powell and to Sullivan Strickler. The firm said in a statement to The Post that it was not a target of the investigation and that the company and its employees were witnesses in the case.

SullivanStrickler has said it believed the attorneys it was working for were authorized to access the voting machines, and that the firm had no reason to think the attorneys would ask it to do anything illegal or improper. “We are confident that it will quickly become apparent that we did nothing wrong and were operating in good faith at all times,” it said in a statement.

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