Photo by Beau Evans

ATLANTA – The State Election Board late Tuesday unanimously rejected a proposal to let Georgians vote with hand-marked paper ballots in instances where using touch-screen voting machines cannot guarantee privacy.

Both state law and the Georgia Constitution require that voters be allowed to cast their ballots in secrecy. But that doesn’t always happen in Georgia, Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, a ballot-security advocacy group, told board members before Tuesday’s vote.

“The screens are so large and so light it’s hard not to see how other people are voting,” she said.

Marks’ organization brought a proposed amendment to state election rules requiring touch screens be positioned so that no one can get behind a voter within 30 feet of a machine while voting is taking place. Adjacent screens would have to be at least eight feet apart.

Marks said most precincts are large enough to accommodate four to six touch-screen machines and still leave room for hand-marked paper ballot stations.

“You can clearly get one in each corner,” she said.

After Marks’ presentation, board members agreed something needs to be done to make sure precincts are in compliance with the state law guaranteeing ballot privacy. But they suggested other potential solutions could be worth considering, including bigger dividers between machines or protectors that make screens harder to read from a distance.

“This is a one-size-fits-all when there are other ways to ensure ballot secrecy,” board member Edward Lindsey said.

Board member Janice Johnston said allowing two types of in-person voting during elections – touch-screen machines and hand-marked paper ballots – might be confusing.

“It doesn’t seem to add to the potential for orderliness we’re striving for,” she said.

In making the motion to defeat the proposal, Lindsey said the board will continue working to come up with a solution.

“Rejection doesn’t mean the issue is gone,” he said. “We need further study.”