The results from Georgia’s sixth district congressional race are odd.
Jon Ossoff, the Democratic newcomer who ran against Republican former Secretary of State Karen Handel, won the absentee vote 64% to 36%. That vote was conducted on paper ballots that were mailed in and scanned on optical scanners. Ossoff also won the early voting 51% to 49%. Those results closely mirror recent polls that had him ahead by 1-3 points. In the highest of those polls, he was ahead by 7% with 5% undecided and a 4% margin of error.
On Election Day, Handel pulled out a whopping 16 percent lead, for a crushing 58% to 42% division of the day’s votes. That means that all 5% of the undecided voters broke for Handel, the poll was off by its farthest estimate and another 3.5% of Ossoff’s voters switched sides into her camp. All this despite Ossoff’s intensive door-to-door ground offensive that Garland Favorito, who lives in the heart of the sixth district called the "most massive operation” he’s ever seen. Favorito is the founder of VoterGA, a nonpartisan election reform group. He said Handel had signs up, but her canvassing operation didn't approach Ossoff's.
Michael McDonald, the political science professor who runs the United States Elections Project, expressed no surprise at the results, and seemed to indicate it was because of high Republican turnout. He tweeted a graph of early voting results, showing Republican turnout beating Democratic turnout by a ratio of 5 to 3. That is impressive turnout, but even with those numbers Ossoff won the early voting returns. So it would seem that many of the independents voted for him, and possibly some of the Republicans crossed over.
Unlike the absentee voters who filled out paper ballots, Election Day voters in Georgia used touchscreen machines that have no verifiable paper trail. These specific machines, the Accuvote TS, are susceptible to hacking, and in fact were hacked on national television in 2006 by computer scientists from Princeton. Professor Ed Felten also demonstrated the hack before Congress, testifying that their program could “silently transfer votes from one candidate to another,” and that “launching it requires access to a single voting machine for as little as one minute.”
Not only were the machines hacked 10 years ago, with no known patch put in place to protect them from that vulnerability, the entire Georgia election systems website was penetrated in August 2016 by security researcher Logan Lamb.
“It was on the wide-open internet,” Lamb said in a recent phone interview. Lamb was able to download passwords, instructions to election workers and databases used to prepare the ballots and tabulate votes. He easily downloaded all of this as part of 16 gigs of sensitive Georgia election data that was left completely unprotected on the internet for months. Asked what level of expertise was required, he replied, “little to none.”