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What does Forsyth County's elections supervisor think of Georgia's voting machine change?

Forsyth County’s Supervisor of Voter Registrations and Elections said while she likes the current ballot machines used in the state, she is comfortable with a new proposal that some see as a compromise between current touch-screen machines and paper ballots.

Barbara Luth, who leads the elections department, told Forsyth County News this week that a proposal to go with the new machines could add some extra work for elections officials but she preferred it to going to only paper ballots.

“It prints out what you voted for to a piece of paper and you take that to the scanner and scan it,” Luth said. “Once you print it out, it does not hold any of those records in the ballot markers. As you review your ballot of who you voted for and once you know that that's right, you print it out and then you can look at it physically and take it to the scanner and feed it through the scanner.

Last week, a state House subcommittee voted to move ahead with the change to the system.

The bill's author, Republican state Rep. Barry Fleming of Harlem, said he believed that electronic ballot markers better captured voter intent, citing the possibility of stray marks throwing off tabulation of hand-marked paper ballots. Fleming also said electronic ballot markers are the only real way to accommodate all Georgians, including disabled voters, with one system.

But cybersecurity experts, voting integrity activists and some concerned citizens favor hand-marked paper ballots.

Systems using electronic ballot markers include touchscreen computers where voters make their selections, then print a paper ballot that's counted after being scanned. Setups from different vendors vary, but voter selections can either be spelled out in human-readable form, encoded in a barcode or both.

Hand-marked paper ballots are simply ballots that are filled out by hand with pen on paper.

Initial cost estimates approach $150 million for electronic ballot markers, the same amount included in bond funding in Gov. Brian Kemp's 2020 budget proposal. Initial costs for hand-marked paper ballots would be closer to $30 million.

Luth said she doesn’t think the change will impact how quickly elections results are available but could extend times at polls and ballot printing and storage costs for the county.

The change would replace the touch-screen machines used by the state for more than 15 years, which Luth said have an image problem.

“I like the system we have now. Everyone thinks it’s a bad system, but it’s not,” she said. “People want more of the receipt to look at. I think the ballot marker devices is the next best thing to a paper ballot, and that’s the one they’re proposing.”