If Georgia election officials fail to meet the tight timeline they’ve set to implement an entirely new voting system, they’ll have to quickly pivot to hand-marked paper ballots for the March presidential primaries.

That’s according to a Thursday ruling by U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger last week certified a new voting system and said it will be in place by the March 24 presidential primary elections, just over seven months away. The chief information officer for Raffensperger’s office, Meritt Beaver, acknowledged during a court hearing last month that the implementation schedule is “tight.”

The state’s $106 million contract with Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems includes new touchscreen voting machines that print a paper record with a code that’s read by a scanner.

Raffensperger said in an emailed statement Thursday that his office is “already moving full steam ahead” to implement the new system.

It’s set to replace the outdated election management system and paperless voting machines that Georgia has used since 2002. Election integrity advocates and individual voters sued in 2017 alleging that the touchscreen voting are unsecure and vulnerable to hacking.

They had asked Totenberg to order an immediate switch to hand-marked paper ballots, noting that special and municipal elections are scheduled before March. The judge declined, citing concerns about the state’s capacity to make an interim switch to hand-marked paper ballots while also working to implement a new system.

But she made it clear it’s not acceptable for the state to use the old system as a backup if the new system isn’t in place in time.

“Georgia’s current voting equipment, software, election and voter databases, are antiquated, seriously flawed, and vulnerable to failure, breach, contamination, and attack,” she wrote.

Instead, she ordered election officials to develop a contingency plan that includes using hand-marked paper ballots. She ordered a pilot of that contingency plan during elections this November.

Totenberg noted that some dates and details about the implementation have been a “moving target,” and that the state has already scaled back a planned pilot program and postponed some deadlines.

This “slippage” gave her concerns about the state’s ability to effectively handle the “mammoth undertaking” of procuring, testing and installing the equipment in all 159 counties, as well as installing a new election management, ballot building and voter registration system, she wrote.

(Photo: Mike Stewart)

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