For a number of reasons, Georgia unlikely to end machine voting

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ATLANTA - Attorney Walker Chandler has a history of tilting at windmills, and many observers thought that's what he was doing Monday when he made oral arguments before the Georgia Supreme Court for scrapping the state's electronic voting machines.

Chandler told the justices that using the hugely popular machines are unconstitutional because they can't be physically audited, which strips anyone who uses them of their right to vote.

He has a tough row to hoe. Overturning any law is always difficult, and his case may be crippled by one particular deficiency: he has no proof of any damages.

Chandler and other opponents of the touch-screen voting machines have never been able to identify any victims. Indeed, he acknowledges that no election results have been corrupted by the machines.

"We do not accuse this existing administration or [former Secretary Cathy] Cox of any fraud," he said. "Well, that covers the past and present. It does not cover the future, and that is the potential problem in the future."

Other challenges to these machines have been tossed out of court for insufficient evidence, and a Fulton County Superior Court judge threw this one out, too. Chandler is arguing an appeal just to get the case sent back down for a full trial.

For Chandler, election law isn't just another case. He's been the Libertarian Party nominee three times, for lieutenant governor in 1990 and 1994 and attorney general in 1998. And he convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a state law mandating drug tests for candidates.

Unverifiable voting machines are one more reason for questioning government, he said.

"We're all asked to trust the government and its assurances about these machines," he said. "History tells us otherwise."

At least he's consistent. When Justice Hugh Thompson pointed out that the giant, lever-operated voting machines replaced by the touch-screen computers would also be illegal in Chandler's reasoning because they never left a paper audit trail, Chandler didn't hesitate to agree.

Only paper ballots will do, despite the time required to count them.

"Accuracy is a lot more important than speed. And public confidence is a lot more important than speed," he said.

Of course, Georgia's most notorious case of election fraud occurred with paper ballots in a race that temporarily resulted in three men claiming to be governor in 1946. Newspaper reporter George Goodwin uncovered the scandal when he found dead people's names on the rolls of those who had voted in Herman Talmadge's hometown of McRae.

Jimmy Carter's early political career almost was derailed by opponents literally stuffing the ballot box in a state Senate race.

"Georgia had a system that was often subject to fraud," said Stefan Ritter, the senior assistant attorney general representing the state in a shockingly frank statement for the government to make.

On the other hand, critics of electronic voting have little to talk about beyond the possibility of manipulation.

According to state officials, the only way to rig an election now would be to somehow gain access to individual machines after their pre-election certification, quickly remove 17 screws, change seven tiny "dip switches" inside each gizmo, load the adulterated software and put it all back together while the machine is out of the locked storage room and unsupervised by the poll workers. Critics' fraud scenario is just not likely, said Ritter, and certainly not on a large scale.

"There is no basis to their claim," he said.

It appears the justices felt the same way. In the first high-profile case before the court since Leah Sears stepped down as chief justice and Carole Hunstein succeeded her, the panel asked few questions. No zingers were fired at the state's lawyer, Ritter, which is usually what happens when the justices are building up internal debating points before overturning a major law.

In fact, an upset is less likely because only five justices heard oral arguments - Gov. Sonny Perdue hasn't named a replacement for Sears, and Justice Robert Benham, the only former chief justice on the court, wasn't present.

A decision is due in about three months. Though Walker Chandler has won some significant appeals, it's quite possible the published poet and novelist may have championed a losing cause this time.

walter.jones@morris.com, (404) 589-8424

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Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 07/20/09 - 07:00 am
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The plain fact is - - - it is

The plain fact is - - - it is more difficult to rig an election with electronic ballots than it is to rig an election with paper ballots.

themaninthemirror
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themaninthemirror 07/20/09 - 07:42 am
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As long as America has people

As long as America has people standing up to keep things in a backward state, we will keep having president's with the Obama mindset elected.

Spuds1694
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Spuds1694 07/20/09 - 10:10 am
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You know, a printed

You know, a printed confirmation might reduce some anxiety...

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 07/20/09 - 10:24 am
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What in the world would you

What in the world would you DO with your printout? It would mean no more than that little "I Voted" sticker they give to you. If someone were clever enough to program the computer to rig the election, he would be clever enough to make the "printed confirmation" say what the voter expected it to say while still having the computer rig the election.

TechLover
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TechLover 07/21/09 - 04:55 am
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Maybe there's no proof

Maybe there's no proof because there's no audit. Littlelamb: You get the printout, check that it's correct and then drop it in a box. If there is some question, they can then check the printouts against what the machine tally says. You don't carry it home like a Walmart receipt.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 07/21/09 - 06:50 am
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Your criteria is set too low,

Your criteria is set too low, TechLover. You say "if there is SOME question, THEY can then check the printouts." There will always be some whiner out there who says, "they stole the election," and officials would be obligated to round up a few thousand poll workers (most of them in their eighties) to count those "receipts" by hand and a few hundred supervisors (most of them in their sixties) to tally the marks on paper that the poll workers wrote down. Why would that human count of paper receipts be more accurate than the computer count?

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 07/21/09 - 09:09 am
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Take TechLover's solution a

Take TechLover's solution a little further. You tap the screen on the electronic voting machine, tap the "cast ballot" button and get your printout. You look at it, smile and "drop it in a box." While nobody is looking, the election riggers "drop" about 400 extra printouts they made from a counterfeit machine into the same box. After someone asks for a re-count, the paper printouts are counted. Which result do you accept, the computer or the paper count?

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 07/21/09 - 03:07 pm
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And how would you like this

And how would you like this scenario while you are in line voting? A person taps the screen, making all those X's next to the candidates of his choice. Then he taps the "cast ballot" button and gets his printout. He looks at the printout and frowns. He knows he placed his X next to Mickey Mouse, but his printout says Donald Duck. He takes his printout to the poll manager to complain that his vote is not recorded correctly. The poll manager than has to shut down that voting machine until the matter is resolved. But how in the world would you resolve it? What if the voter is a flake, or just a troublemaker? Meanwhile, the lines get longer and longer.

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