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Athens voters switch to hand-marked paper ballots

Early voters had used the state’s new voting machines for two days before the local election board voted 3-2 to pull the machines.

ATHENS, Ga. — Residents in Athens-Clarke County early voted Wednesday using hand marked paper ballots instead of the state’s new voting machines.  That came after the Clarke County election board decided to pull the machines out of concern for voter privacy.

Early voters had used the state’s new voting machines for two days before the local election board voted 3-2 to pull the machines.

Voters streaming into Athens’s early voting site downtown collected a paper ballot – which they took into a voting booth equipped only with a Sharpie.

"I thought perhaps I was going to vote on those new computers that Gov. Kemp put in. Then I found out we were using paper," said voter Dave Bacastow after early-voting in the presidential primary Wednesday.

Members of Athens-Clarke County’s election board had looked at the configuration in the room – and determined that voters couldn’t cast a secret ballot.  The state’s new touchscreen system is larger, with a brighter screen and situated more vertically than the system it’s replacing.

RELATED: 2020 Georgia Presidential Primary Election Guide

Last month, voters in Dooly County told 11Alive their special election votes were visible to poll workers and other voters in their precincts. 

By withdrawing their touchscreen devices, Clarke County is now warehousing nearly 300 such machines that won’t get used during this presidential primary.

"We picked a machine that violates ballot secrecy," said Jeanne Dufort, who helped persuade Clarke County that the new devices couldn’t keep the secret ballot secret.

"I could see the screens" in the precinct, Dufort said. "So their setup didn’t allow ballot secrecy and their setup didn’t allow every machine to be monitored while voters were at them."

RELATED: First day of early voting with new machines goes smoothly in Gwinnett Co.

We saw voters easily blocking their paper ballots from the potential gaze of spectators at the Athens precinct. Matt Cathcart, a 37-year-old musician, voted for the first time ever on the paper ballot.  

"It was a lot easier than I thought it might be," he said. 

"I liked it. I’m old school. I like paper," added Artee Riley, an Athens hairdresser and roller derby coach.

Dufort thinks Clarke and other counties ought to permanently retire the new voting machines.

 "I would say it’s a design flaw. Send these machines back. I don’t think it’s worth to Georgia taxpayers the cost of trying to overcome this design flaw," she said.

RELATED: Athens says no to new voting machines, citing lack of privacy

The Secretary of State's office, which purchased the 33,000 devices from Dominion Voting systems for more than $100 million, declined comment.

Athens-Clarke County's decision to pull the machines is applicable through Georgia's March 24 presidential primary.

Another statewide primary in May could yield another decision from the board.


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