All eyes were on the Florida polls last Nov. 5, but Georgia voters were making history across the state line. Georgia became the first state to run an election exclusively with electronic voting machines, rolling out its new $54 million electronic voting system to every single county for the 2002 elections.
Although Georgia wasn’t close in the 2000 presidential elections (George W. Bush, 55 percent; Al Gore, 43.2 percent), the state’s percentage of unmarked, uncounted and spoiled ballots of 3.5 percent almost made Florida’s 2.9 percent look good.
In 2001, the state passed legislation that called for a statewide uniform voting system. A special voting commission selected the AccuVote-TS touch screen system from North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold Election Systems. Staff from the Center for Elections at Kennesaw State University performed quality control audits on all the voting units, and Hall and Marion counties ran pilot programs in 2001. Finally last November, more than 3.7 million registered voters from Acworth to Woodstock voted with the new machines.
Naturally, there were some glitches. Scattered machines froze up and had to be rebooted. Some local races were omitted or misrepresented on ballots. In northwest Georgia’s Floyd County, election officials couldn’t transmit results because of a computer error. “You expect to have a few glitches when you’re installing 22,000 voting terminals in 2,926 precincts in 159 different counties,” says Michael Barnes, Georgia’s assistant director of elections. “But we think it went exceptionally well.”
Now, Georgia has emerged as an election systems leader. And how’s this for ROI: Barnes says Georgia expects the $3.9 billion federal election reform package passed last fall will mean the feds pay for the new voting systems.