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Ga. group continues suit over state's voting machines

By Jaya Franklin and

Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Days after Georgia's primary election, a group of residents from across the metro Atlanta area say they are continuing attempts to ensure the integrity of the state's voting practices.

The Voters Organized for Trusted Election Results in Georgia, also known as VOTER GA, currently has a lawsuit pending against the state, which attempts to ban the voting machines currently used in Georgia.

The court action, originally filed in July 2006, contends that the touch-screen devices are inaccurate and illegal under state law. The group believes the machines should not be used to determine votes on Election Day, according to its founder, Garland Favorito.

"The machines are not auditable," said Favorito, of Roswell, lead plaintiff in the case. "You can't verify if the machine recorded what the voter selected on the screen. It's not possible to identify fraud or discrepancies in voting, because the state has removed the directly created physical evidence of voter intent."

Favorito said since the group's investigation began, it has found more evidence to support its claims. As a result, VOTER GA filed a motion in March to bring an early conclusion to the case.

"We spent over a year and a half in [the discovery phase of court proceedings], because we uncovered more apparent violations of law," he said. "We filed a summary judgment asking the judge to rule in our favor, because the defendants' witnesses in this case admitted the key elements of our claims."

No date, however, has been set for a hearing on the plaintiffs' motion.

The group would like to have equal protection similar to absentee voters, who utilize optically-scanned paper ballots.

According to Voter GA, in absentee voting, paper ballots are required for many reasons: The ballots verify a voter's selection, along with providing a true recount; facilitate the investigation of voting discrepancies, and help prevent fraud, while providing evidence for contested elections.

Mark Sawyer, of DeKalb County, another plaintiff, said in April the entire lawsuit against the state could have been avoided. "We found out in discovery that if the law had been followed in 2001, when the machines were procured and certified, [the lawsuit would never have been filed]," said Sawyer, who noted that the law requires an independent audit trail of each vote that is cast. The current touch-screen machines do not have an independent audit trail.

Henry County Board of Elections and Registration Director Janet Shellnutt said she has never had a problem with retrieving information from the touch-screen machines. "Every one of the machines are certified and audited before we start," said Shellnutt. "We have CD-ROMs to go with the machines, which are used to store information."

The Voter GA group suggests the state should have statewide, external-audit-trail capability for voting machines, and should perform a public audit at voting precincts on election night. However, the group advocates allowing visually impaired voters to continue to cast their ballots independently, with whatever solution is selected.

For more information on Voter GA, log on to: www.voterga.org.