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Georgia's Voting Plan Has Drawn New Criticism, This Time Over How It's Dealing With Voters Overseas

The decision to block foreign internet traffic from its voter hub is just the latest controversy to touch the state's voting procedures.

Posted on August 31, 2018, at 1:03 p.m. ET

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp
John Amis / AP

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp

The state of Georgia has blocked all foreign internet traffic to its online voter registration site, BuzzFeed News has learned, a move that would do little to deter hackers but blocks absentee voters.

The site, registertovote.sos.ga.gov, is accessible only to US IP addresses.

The decision has outraged technologists and voting groups. In theory, it’s meant as a security measure, based on the idea that a person visiting the site is more likely to be a foreign hacker. But in practice, it has the opposite effect: Georgians abroad who don’t know how to reroute their internet traffic with tools like virtual private networks (VPNs) or Tor will be prevented from registering to vote.

“This won't really do anything to dissuade a hacker. It will only turn away real voters,” said Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, president of the US Vote Foundation, a nonprofit that helps Americans vote abroad. “A hacker, or even a determined voter, will just get onto a VPN and to a US IP address, and guess what? They’re in.”

In an email sent June 16 to at least one Georgia county and obtained by BuzzFeed News, John Hallman, Georgia’s election systems manager, said that the state was preparing to block foreign traffic to its My Voter Page, the hub Georgians use to check their voter registration status and how to mail in voter applications, among other information.

"For security purposes, we are going to be blocking international traffic to MVP during non-balloting time periods,” Hallman wrote.

A spokesperson for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is currently running for governor, defended the decision, saying that the actual PDF file that absentee voters would download and fill out is not blocked.

“When we have received calls from ... voters who get to the webpage disclaimer, we walk them through the security explanation and provide assistance as needed,” she said.

But voting technology experts say it’s a backwards system.

“I don't think it makes sense to argue that just because the link to the PDF allows global IP access that absentee and (overseas) voters will be fine,” said Joseph Hall, the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

“Rather than block all global IP addresses outside the US, they really should be more selective in their blocking strategy,” Hall said.

Georgia’s election setup is one of the most criticized in the country. It’s one of the few states that both produces no paper trail in any county and conducts no statistically significant audits, a situation that the Department of Homeland Security has described as a national threat.

Earlier this year, despite receiving some federal assistance money, the state legislature rejected a plan to replace its voting machines with ones that could be audited.


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