Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
January 30, 2024
A Georgia Senate panel moved the state closer to eliminating the use of QR codes for counting votes on paper ballots, a practice that has been criticized by ballot security advocates.
Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Max Burns said Tuesday that his Senate Bill 189 intends to restore greater confidence in the accuracy of votes cast in elections statewide. The bill calls for replacing the QR code that tabulates votes recorded on paper ballots with a new method of either readable text or a bubble style mark similar to what is currently used for absentee and provisional ballots.
“It’s a voter confidence bill,” Burns said. “If we can achieve the goal of having this legislation adopted, I think it will go a long way to ensuring that all of our voters, from all political perspectives, will have confidence in the election.”
Burns said after speaking with state election officials that he’s confident that switching away from the QR code does not require an overhaul of the state’s voting system. In 2019, the state purchased the Dominion Voting Systems electronic machines for $107 million.
A QR code is type of barcode that is considered to be more easily scannable and able to contain more information than the standard barcode.
“It is technically possible to remove the QR code or any other encoded, non-human readable content and read the actual content of the ballot,” the Sylvania Republican said. “We’re gonna leave the details and the technical requirements up to the Secretary of State as they work through the implementation of this.”
The bill now moves to the Senate Rules Committee, which sets the agenda on which legislation is brought to the floor of the chamber. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and House Speaker Jon Burns, both Republicans, have listed the elimination of the QR code on ballots as a priority for the 2024 legislative session.
During a mid-January legislative budget committee hearing, lawmakers grilled GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger about QR codes. Raffensperger said the change would not be feasible to implement ahead of this year’s Georgia election season, which begins March 12 with the presidential primary. Raffensperger also said that if the state wishes to adopt the new election measures then legislators will need to allocate enough funding in the budget.
Raffensperger has taken flack from some of his fellow Republicans since shortly after the 2020 election, when then-President Donald Trump named the secretary as a co-conspirator in his unfounded claims of election interference. Raffensperger famously declined to “find” enough votes to secure a Trump win in Georgia.
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution open records request turned up secretary of state’s office documents putting a price tag of $32.5 million for GOP lawmakers’ proposed ballot security measures, including removing ballot bar codes.
Sen. Bo Hatchett, a Cornelia Republican, said Tuesday that the bill addresses a concern that he’s long heard from voters within his northeast Georgia district.
Georgia’s reliance on electronic voting technology has been the subject of a long-running federal lawsuit in which election security advocates are pushing for the state to switch to hand-marked paper ballots. In January, that case went to trial in Atlanta as the state and plaintiffs led by the Coalition for Good Governance argued over the vulnerability of Georgia’s voting machines and security protocols to the threats of hacking.
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