Georgia election officials Friday loaded and shipped the last truckloads of new voting machines making their statewide debut in the March presidential primaries, getting the equipment to local election offices barely two weeks before advance voting begins.

Distributing 30,000 machines among 159 Georgia counties ahead of the primaries posed a big challenge for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. A federal judge last August ordered Georgia to retire its outdated, paperless system before any votes were cast in 2020, citing security concerns.

Raffensperger’s office had just awarded a $103 million contract for the new machines when the judge ruled, increasing pressure to meet an already tight rollout schedule. Georgia will hold its presidential primaries on March 24. But advance, in-person voting begins March 2.

Now, local election officials in each county must have their machines unpacked and tested for accuracy, plus make sure their staffs and volunteer poll workers are trained on the new system before the first voters arrive.

“We might work night and day, but we’ll be ready on March 2,” said Frank Scoggins, elections supervisor in rural Thomas County, one of the six final counties scheduled to have machines delivered Friday. “We’re not counting days. We’re counting hours now.”

Georgia’s 2020 elections are being closely watched after officials faced a torrent of criticism in 2018. Problems included hours-long waits at some polling sites, security breaches that left voters’ registration information exposed and accusations that strict ID matching requirements and registration errors suppressed turnout. That led to lawsuits and changes to state law that included switching election systems.

The new machines require voters to select their choices on a touchscreen, then print out a paper ballot that’s scanned by another machine to record their votes. The old machines that Georgia used for 18 years were touchscreen-only and produced no paper trail that could be audited.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg ruled in August the old machines were “antiquated, seriously flawed, and vulnerable” and must be removed from service. Some election security experts and advocates say the new system still has security vulnerabilities. They also cite trust issues because the scanners count votes that are recorded as bar codes and aren’t readable by humans.

Totenberg had ordered Georgia election officials to be ready to use hand-marked paper ballots as a backup if the new system wasn’t ready in time. State attorneys assured her last month the new machines for the March primaries would all be delivered by Friday.

Workers track the destinations of 30,000 new voting machines Friday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Atlanta, being delivered to Georgia counties. State officials say they faced a challenge in delivering the brand new machines to Georgia's 159 counties in time for upcoming elections. (AP Photo/Jeff Martin)

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