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Georgia Lawmakers Mull Paper Ballot Voting System

AP Photo/Alex Sanz, File

As Georgia lawmakers consider scrapping electronic voting machines for a system that uses paper ballots, a razor-thin margin in a U.S. House race over 500 miles away in Western Pennsylvania has highlighted a crucial distinction between the two systems: the presence of an auditable paper trail.

The proposal would move Georgia from its 16-year-old electronic touchscreen voting system with no paper backup, to either a touchscreen system that prints a paper ballot or paper ballots marked by pencil.

Republican Rep. Ed Setzler of Acworth, one of the bill's primary backers, said it was needed to ensure that election results could be audited if there were claims or evidence of irregularities and to bolster voter confidence.

The measure recently passed the House Governmental Affairs Committee and is expected to quickly see a vote before the full House.

"I think the public recognizes that the best-in-class technology for voting is a combination of technology with paper so that you have a verifiable, recount-able, physically tally-able ballot at the end of the process that if there is any lack of confidence in the machine you can do a physical manual tally recount," Setzler said.

A tight U.S. House race in Western Pennsylvania last week was questioned by GOP officials there who said they were looking into alleged voting irregularities after Democrat Conor Lamb declared victory over Republican Rick Saccone in a longtime GOP stronghold that includes four counties in the Pittsburgh area.

That Pennsylvania district and Georgia both use voting systems that lack a clear record of voter intent, making it difficult to audit or verify results, according to Marian Schneider, a former Pennsylvania election official and president of Verified Voting, a group that advocates for transparent elections.

"It's just like any other process. When you are trying to audit something, you have to have a record of the original transaction to check against reported results," Schneider said in a phone interview. "What you need is a trustworthy record of the voter's intent to be able to check the software."

Schneider said the Pennsylvania race should serve as a wake-up call for Georgia and other states that are still using electronic voting machines without a paper backup.

Setzler said he did not want to prejudge the Pennsylvania race, but said that past issues with electronic voting machines in other states showed the need for changes in Georgia.

"If there have been close races in other states in which there have been concerns, it does inform our thought process," he said.