Reporter’s Notebook: What was said in court case arguing Georgia election security

Georgia News
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WJBF Atlanta Bureau Chief Ashley Bridges was in oral arguments as attorneys for Secretary Brian Kemp and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office fought back against a suit to immediately move to paper ballots due to the insecurity of Georgia’s election system.

Federal Court proceedings do not allow recording devices, but here’s a rough log of Bridges’ “Reporter’s Notebook.”  Areas that may be of particular interest, or that grew particularly heated.

Attorneys referenced below for the Plaintiff’s filing the case are Cross, Macguire and Brown. 

Attorneys for Kemp and the Secretary of State are former Governor Roy Barnes and his son-in-law John Salter.  (A political twist that surprised many when Democrat Barnes took the case, instead of Georgia’s own attorney general) 

Totenberg is the judge.

Plaintiffs: Present a just-released National Academy of Sciences report claiming, “Every effort should be made to use human-readable paper ballots in the 2018 election.”

Salter for Secretary of State:  Claimed Kemp believes that the election can be “safely and accurately” conducted and Plaintiffs want judge to “rule to make this elephant have wings and fly”

Totenberg:  “The reality is times change and we’re in a rapidly changing time”

Plaintiffs:  David Cross:  “Georgia is frozen in time”  have a right not “just to the case, but to have that ballot count”

“Difficult to claim we’re paranoid” cited Dan Coats “ongoing, pervasive effort to undermine our elections” 

Kirsten Nielson stated “Democracy is in the crosshairs” Secretary of State has “literally done nothing”

Bruce Brown “It’s broken, but we’ll fix it later”; National Academy of Sciences

Salter for Secretary of State notes enormous logistical challenge:  2,365 polling places, 6.8M voters, 10% absentee, 46% yield

Dr. Alex Halderman, head of Computer Science for The University of Michigan, begins to testify:

Salter for Secretary of State begins citing cases 10+ years old triggering…

Totenberg:  “Now listen, to point me to Favorito in 2008 and say there is no difference in data breeches, in evidence, is to make me work in an Alice In Wonderland World and it would be more helpful to actually grapple with the circumstances.”

Halderman: “Everything changed in 2016”

Governor Barnes tries to claim that Halderman doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he’s from Michigan, not Georgia.  “The sun comes up differently in Michigan than in Georgia.”

Judge Totenberg responds, roughly:  “I read that in your brief, Mr. Barnes, but couldn’t believe you would make that argument:  Nuclear physics for example is nuclear physics.”

A demonstration that opened the eyes of everyone in court:  Dr. Halderman shows central system, to memory cards, to load on to machines votes for Washington vs. Benedict Arnold — voted 3-0 changed to 2-1 via manipulation.  It can infect central admin, programming, requires no internet and no physical access

Parallel testing and election mode not enough–the test demonstrations still printed properly so poll workers would have no idea.

Barnes yells at Dr. Halderman about if he’s worried about “a crook”; Halderman replies, no, worried about a nation state.

Barnes pounds the podium and voting machine, points to the table marked “The Secretary of State” but he’s not there.

Interestingly, Barnes cites a study that minority voters are more likely to mark with a X instead of bubbling in and thus be undercounted.  Claims that paper ballots could disenfranchise minority voters.

Halderman rebuttal: you can design to show ballot and avoid voter error

Highest drama moment of the day, shocking and confusing out-of-town reporters:  Barnes to Dr. Halderman: “you don’t know anything about Georgia.  How many times have you been here? Do you even know where the big chicken is?

Okay, well maybe this was the highest drama moment… Barnes:  “Paper could be changed by the fella counting” Halderman: “If there are dishonest elections officials in Georgia”

Halderman regarding lack of need for physical access:  “You don’t need a crook in the sealed room”

Totenberg to Barnes:  “I know that’s your view, but I can’t say it’s mine.  We don’t have a jury so it doesn’t have to be brought home 1000 times.  I understand this is a Georgia case, but I don’t think it’s helpful to grandstand.”

DeMillo, Georgia Tech.  Protection, detection, contamination.  No antivirus foundation.  GEMS server

SoS claims that the machine can audit itself and are circular– if part of it is infected, it’s all infected, e.g. a recount or internal count would be meaningless.

Does he think of himself as a luddite?  It’s a strange career for a luddite.  Every computer scientist thinks paper is the safest

Chris Harvey, Kemp’s Director of Elections:

August 1 2018 letter sent to all the counties to discourage them from considering switching to paper on their own.  Claimed “A provision allows the state to move to paper if inoperable or unsafe, if at any point we feel we will invoke”

August 24 2016, Logan Lamb hacked GEMS data base

Totenberg to Harvey:  “So when it came out, you didn’t make yourself aware?”
Harvey admits that the SoS department did not investigate the hack, interview Lamb for guidance on system or request report from FBI.

CH:  My understanding was it didn’t contain the information

Secretary Kemp originally TURNED DOWN the federal funding $10M HAVA grant to improve election security. Turned down in April, finally accepted in July

David Dove report on DHS allegedly hacking?

KSU server to counties, epoll book

Harvey claims couldn’t store all the ballots — but they store 27k large voting machines.  In actuality, math shows that the ballots for voters would likely fill 2 U-Haul trucks

“To say that you couldn’t do it is different than saying it would take a long time”

Totenberg:  “But if it happened and they requested absentee votes, you would come up with it, right?”

Michael Barnes:

  • Hired August 98 by Lewis Massey
  • Went to Center Election Systems at KSU in 2005.  
  • Returned to SoS after shut down.

“Has the Secretary of State done anything to decontaminate the system since Mr. Lamb hacked?”  

Barnes: NO.

“Has the Secretary of State employed a cyber security expert to determine if you needed to do more?”

Barnes: NO

Totenberg:  “How was it all of this info was collected and was still available 6 months later?”

“Did the Secretary of State undertake any forensic audit or investigation of systems?”  


Server was wiped “per our policy”  Kemp called “reckless, inexcusable, and inept”…then HIRED BARNES INTERNALLY

“Do you believe the GEMS server and network has no wireless access point?  And that’s the basis of your testimony”

GEMS KSU…XP…How was it patched?

Removable media to patch — from Barnes’ computer, connected to the internet, e.g. where he gets his emails to a USB drive to the election server to the 27K voting machines

“You testified you can’t think of any reason the election would be made less safe?”

Lamb got Social Security Numbers, DOB’s, DL, addresses…

Objection:  Relevance

Cross:  “Are we really arguing relevance?

“Were you aware Lamb (got Social Security Numbers, DOB’s, DL, addresses…)

“Is it really your view that someone like Russia couldn’t effect the election?”

“Are you aware that Mr. Lamb accessed the GEMS database?  Did you know that?”

“No, he only accessed the training database”

“Are you aware that he was able to extract the supervisor passwords?”

“No, only the expresspoll passwords”

“Give how little you understand it explains why you might not understand the risk to the election.”

Richard Barron Fulton County:

Totenberg and Plaintiff attorney agree that he’s wasting a ton of time discussing physical security which isn’t the issue at hand

Totenberg:  “Maybe other people don’t understand the issue and that’s why they’re wasting time on the physical”

Barron:  “I’m under significant pressure to get these votes counted by 11PM.  I’d have unhappy candidates”

got Social Security Numbers, DOB’s, DL, addresses…

David Cross: “Mr. Barron do you honestly not understand that hackers can get into the GEMS system through modem lines?”

“So since it is connected to modem lines, it is not airgapped”

“Yes it is airgapped”

“Your understanding of airgrapped is that it can be connected to phone lines?’


Totenberg agrees with Cross on getting it and letting it go

“It’s old”

“Your view is that it’s not defensible to keep defending the year 2000 software?”  Barron acknowledges

Barron email May 15 2017 to SoS office:
“Secretary Kemp is out of line for (server.) He’s never run an election and has no clue how to run one. This very old system (2000) coupled with the state forcing multiple databases should be investigated.”

Acknowledged also using FTP to share election info (THUS INTERNET CONNECTION)

Cross: Would your team do just as good of a job trying to secure the paper ballots as voting machines?”  Yes.

Totenberg: “Budget can’t prevent people from voting” (Re: cost of paper ballots)

Cathy Cox
In 2000 Georgia lost 94,000 votes

Salter:  “Sometimes the 11th circuit doesn’t take my word for it” referencing that they will appeal

“The fraud opportunities with paper ballots are limited only by your imagination.”

Anytime you make a change, the last thing you want to do is throw out in front of voters last minute

“I don’t know any conceivable way to change in a matter of weeks…chaos beyond belief, set up for a massive amount of voter error.”

David Cross cross on Cox: “So you agree the need to be replaced but the issue is timing?”

Even at the time of purchase preferred electronic with a paper trail

Plaintiff points out that was an option and California has

Cox referring to paper as “fail safe mechanism”  “I would do everything to comply, but highly problematic”

Cox contends “would need physical access “to set mischief into motion”  (PROVEN FALSE)

“There is no process for redoing an election”

MacGuire gets Cox to acknowledge report she issued citing need for “independent and auditable paper trail” “optical scanners are the best overall accuracy of any system in use in Georgia”


  • “These are big issues”
  • “No one wants their vote not to count”
  • “Catch 22…e.g. long lines, not just a parade of horribles”
  • Concerned we’re here at the 11th hour, but understand plaintiffs that defense didn’t ripen
  • “I don’t think what happend at KSU can be set aside”
  • “Not an issue of luddites”
  • “Don’t want people stuck at polls giving up”
  • Criticizes state and county “Not just susceptibility but strong evidence”
  • “Not theoretical paranoid notion”
  • “These are real issues.”
  • Problem of poll workers “virtual volunteers”
  • “Big job to put on election:
  • “Don’t like that (the defense) called it paranoia.  If it’s paranoia, you don’t deal with it.  We have to deal with it.”

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