Another showdown set this week over Georgia voting machines

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FILE-In this Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 file photoCourtney Parker votes on a new voting machine, in Dallas, Ga. Voting integrity advocates will try this week to convince a federal judge that the state of Georgia should scrap its touchscreen voting machines in favor of hand-marked paper ballots, while the state will ask her not to order any changes, especially so close to an election. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)

ATLANTA – Voting integrity activists will try this week to convince a federal judge that Georgia should scrap its brand new touchscreen voting machines in favor of hand-marked paper ballots. The state, meanwhile, will ask her not to order any changes, especially with an election looming.

A hearing scheduled for Thursday and Friday will be the latest skirmish in a long-running fight. A lawsuit filed in 2017 against state and county election officials that originally challenged the state's old, outdated voting machines has morphed to target the new machines and election system that Georgia bought last year for more than $100 million.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg, who scolded state officials for failing to address serious problems with the old system, said the purchase of a new system was a step in the right direction. Now she must decide whether the new system places an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.

The election integrity activists say the new voting machines are unaccountable and unverifiable and have many of the same security vulnerabilities as the old ones, despite Totenberg's warnings that the state must have a secure and reliable voting system.

State officials argue the new machines have been thoroughly tested and that security measures will prevent problems. They say the activists are seeking changes through the courts after failing to get the outcome they wanted in the legislative process. They also argue the U.S. Supreme Court has cautioned lower courts against ordering changes close to an election.

The activists have sought help from the courts for years. They argued in 2018 that the touchscreen voting machines Georgia had been using since 2002 were vulnerable to hacking and provided no way to confirm that votes were recorded correctly because they lacked a paper trail. They asked Totenberg to order a switch to hand-marked paper ballots for the midterm elections.

Lawyers for the state argued that switch would be difficult, costly and would cause chaos.

In an order on Sept. 18, 2018, Totenberg said the activists had demonstrated “the threat of real harms to their constitutional interests,” but she said forcing a change to hand-marked paper ballots less than two months before an election was too risky.