Georgia election officials begin audit of 2022 runoff, as drama drags on over state’s 2020 vote

By: - December 14, 2022 1:17 pm

A video surveillance image taken on Jan. 19, 2021, shows former Coffee County Republican Party chair Cathy Latham, bottom right, welcoming forensic computer analysts with Atlanta-based SullivanStrickler to the county elections office. Screenshot from Coffee County video. Courtesy of the Georgia Recorder.

A statewide audit of Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff begins on Wednesday allowing counties the chance to confirm the results of  Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock defeating Republican nominee Herschel Walker by 100,000 votes.

Meanwhile, the start of the audit coincides with urges by election reform groups and cybersecurity experts that federal authorities investigate voting system breaches that played out in south Georgia and several other states in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.

On Tuesday, election reform groups and cybersecurity experts sent a letter calling upon the FBI, Department of Justice and the nation’s top cybersecurity agency to open a probe into what appears to have been a multi-state plot to access and copy election system hard drives and software in Georgia’s Coffee County, Michigan, Nevada and other states.

The letter suggested that the probe can be folded into the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into whether Donald Trump and his allies interfered with the transfer of power after Democrat Joe Biden won the 2020 election.

The letter was signed by election reform group Free Speech For People and a dozen higher education election security experts, former election officials and legal experts. They stated that the Coffee breach evidence uncovered by the Coalition for Good Governance, one of the plaintiffs in a long legal battle with Georgia over the vulnerability of the state’s Dominion Voting Systems electronic voting equipment, is one part of a larger issue that warrants federal inquiry.

Evidence uncovered in the Georgia election lawsuit appears to reveal coordinated breaches were carried out by attorney Sidney Powell and other lawyers working on behalf of Trump’s campaign to discredit the 2020 election results.

The letter warns that conspiracy theorists and domestic terrorists may attempt to disrupt other elections using the information gathered in the breaches.

“Because this plot was orchestrated by individuals currently under investigation for their attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, it is possible that the coordinated effort to obtain voting system software was also part of an ongoing conspiracy to overturn elections,” the letter said.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit uncovered video surveillance footage of a January 2021 breach at Coffee County’s election office. Additionally, the letter urged the federal Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency to ensure better safeguards are in place and to assess whether other elections since 2020 may have been compromised.

“Our lawsuit uncovered evidence that actors working at a national level in Washington DC, Texas, Arizona, Michigan, Colorado, Florida and other states convinced Coffee County officials and political leaders to give them uninhibited access to Georgia’s Dominion Voting System software in the aftermath of the November 2020 election and January 2021 U.S. Senate runoffs,” said Marilyn Marks, executive director of Coalition for Good Governance. “Federal law enforcement agencies are needed to pursue the potential criminal activities and hold those involved accountable. Further, federal oversight to secure the state’s election system is crucially important.”

The plaintiffs are pushing for the state to switch to hand-marked paper ballots instead of the Dominion Voting Systems ballot-marking devices that were rolled out statewide in 2020 and presented by the Georgia secretary of state’s office as a more secure voting method since the machines produce auditable printed paper ballots.

The coalition and plaintiffs’ attorneys have been critical of the handling of the Coffee County case by the Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the State Election Board for not pursuing “a vigorous and swift investigation.” This summer, the State Election Board finally requested for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to become involved, more than a year after state elections officials were first informed that the password to Coffee’s election server no longer worked and that a notorious Trump supporter’s business card was found near the former election director’s computer.

However, state election officials have said there is no evidence that Georgia’s actual election results have been compromised and the criminal investigation is still ongoing.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this week that the special counsel leading a DOJ investigation into Trump has subpoenaed Georgia’s secretary of state for documents related to the former president and the 2020 election. At a Sept. 28 State Election Board meeting, Chairman William Duffey Jr. said that the board had reached out to the FBI about the Coffee case since similar conduct appears to have occurred in Nevada and Michigan.

On Tuesday, the secretary of state’s office held a kickoff event for an audit of the 2022 U.S. Senate runoff. Twenty 10-sided dice were rolled to determine the batches of ballots that will be audited.

Blake Evans, Georgia’s state election director, said the Nov. 8 general election audit was successful in confirming the results, and this latest audit is another opportunity of “audit cultural building” following in a runoff that drew more than 3.5 million voters.

State law requires an audit after a general election, but runoff participation is at the discretion of county election officials. Online records of the audits will be kept by the counties for public access. All but 22 Georgia counties opted to participate in runoff audits. In 2020, the state ran a much more time-consuming hand count of the five million ballots cast in the presidential election in which Biden edged out Trump by fewer than 12,000 votes.

This story was published earlier by the Georgia Recorder, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network which includes the Florida Phoenix.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap is a reporter at the Georgia Recorder, part of the nonprofit States Newsroom that includes the Florida Phoenix. Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. He is a graduate of the University of Memphis.

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