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Georgia elections chief wants money for audit technology, cost unclear

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(The Center Square) — Georgia’s top election official wants more tax dollars to fund technology that could “audit the ballot text of every race” without using QR codes.

“Voters deserve comprehensive audits of all races and the reassurance that the ballots are being counted correctly,” Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement after he presented his proposed budget to the joint Appropriations Committee.

“We want all Georgians to have full confidence in their elections,” Raffensperger added. “That is why my office has been working with multiple companies to develop an auditing tool that would read and tally, not the QR code, but the text of the ballot summary. To deploy this tool, that would be able to verify every contest on the ballot, we need the General Assembly to fund the final development and deployment.”

According to a release, Senate Bill 202, the Election Integrity Act, mandates counties upload scanned ballot images for every vote. Officials would deploy the proposed audit tool following an election and could use optical recognition technology to audit the ballot images.

Raffensperger’s office did not respond to a request for clarification on their request, including the likely cost.

“For the past months, I have publicly and privately called on Secretary Raffensperger to update our voting systems, eliminate the use of QR codes on ballots, and take other measures to ensure that our elections are secure and transparent. He has not done so,” Lt. Governor Burt Jones, a Republican, said in a statement to The Center Square.

“I have also worked with leaders like Senator Max Burns and Senator Randy Robertson to put forward legislation banning the use of ranked-choice voting, strengthening the State Election Board, and implementing other security measures in our elections,” Jones added. “These are vital measures, and I look forward to advancing them in the days to come. By contrast, only now has the Secretary come forward with an eleventh-hour funding proposal without any justification for why these expenses are necessary.”

State lawmakers are weighing a nearly $37 million amended fiscal 2024 budget for the secretary of state’s office and a more than $38.8 million fiscal 2025 budget. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s budget recommendation includes five additional staff members for the elections division.

“We’ve been talking about getting rid of the QR codes for a long time,” state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, said during an Appropriations Committee hearing. “We had an ethics committee meeting with Chairman [Max Burns, R-Sylvania]. Why can’t we just go ahead and do it? We don’t need legislation — just do it — and let us get the scanners for you. How many scanners would you need? What would the cost be?

“In our committee meeting, every one of our committee members said their citizens do not trust the QR code,” Beach added. “So, let’s go ahead and get rid of it. We don’t need legislation, and let’s help you get the scanners you need to implement that as soon as possible.”

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