Georgia replaces voting machines in Coffee County after alleged security breach

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

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

Some election security experts have expressed concern 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 roadmap to find and exploit vulnerabilities. Raffensperger’s office has said security protocols would make it virtually impossible for votes to be tampered with without detection.

The move comes after Raffensperger’s office spent months expressing 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 gained access to county voting machines — and copied sensitive software and data — has been confirmed by sworn depositions, video surveillance footage from inside and outside by the county elections office and other documents turned over to plaintiffs in long-running Georgia election security civil lawsuits. 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 Coffee County would receive new “vote marking devices,” the touch-screen voting machines that voters use to make their choices; printers for voter’s choice paper ballots; ballot scanners used in precincts; electronic voting blocks used to check voters in at polling places; and flash cards and thumb drives.

Two pieces of equipment accessed by forensic experts in Coffee County — a central vote scanner and the election management system server used to tally the 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 suit, said it is “wildly inefficient to leave these two pieces of equipment.” They have been used during elections with the “presumably contaminated” devices now being replaced and could now be contaminated themselves, she said.

Before the announcement, Susan Greenhalgh, a senior election security adviser for the nonprofit Free Speech for People and a consulting expert for the Coalition for Good Governance, said replacing the machines in Coffee County is necessary but not sufficient to curb 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 bad intentions 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 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 then county election supervisor told The Washington Post earlier this year, she let the team into the office to help find evidence that the election “was not conducted truthfully and correctly.” The video footage also shows that Cathy Latham, then the chairman of the county Republican Party, greeted the SullivanStrickler team at the elections office and introduced them to local officials. Her lawyers have denied that she took part in the copying on January 7 or did anything improper or illegal.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said it is investigating a suspected computer breach of a Coffee County election server that day. A special grand jury in Atlanta, which was already looking into the “fake voter” scheme to keep President Donald Trump in power using fake voting records, recently expanded its investigation to include the Coffee County episode.

The grand jury has issued subpoenas, including to Powell and SullivanStrickler. The company 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 lawyers it worked for had permission to access the voting machines and that the firm had no reason to believe the lawyers would ask it to do anything illegal or improper. “We are confident that it will quickly become clear that we did nothing wrong and acted in good faith at all times,” it said in a statement.

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