By BEN NADLER, Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Republican gubernatorial nominee Brian Kemp says Georgia’s electronic voting machines should be replaced – a position critics say he’s resisted for eight years as the state’s top elections official.

There’s just one thing — Kemp says it can’t be done in time for his own election this November.

The secretary of state is asking companies for proposals to implement new machines that produce verifiable paper records in time for the next presidential election in 2020.

Meanwhile, he’s dismissing experts who say the electronic machines are susceptible to hacking and that there’s no way to confirm the accuracy of their vote counts. Kemp is defending the system in place since 2002 as “accurate and secure” enough for this fall’s elections, even though it produces no paper backups that can be audited to make sure each voter’s choice is reflected in the tally.

Voting-integrity advocates have asked a federal judge to force Kemp to use a new paper-based balloting system in time for the November midterms. Attorneys for Kemp’s office responded in court this week that Georgia would be “plunged into chaos” if ordered to move that fast.

Secretary of State spokeswoman Candice Broce says the system is “accurate and secure, but we must plan for its eventual replacement.”

“There is not enough time to acquire the right inventory, train local elections officials, educate voters, and ensure the necessary safeguards to prevent chaos at the polls if a judge orders Georgia to convert to a new system virtually overnight,” her statement said.

That may be true, but only because Kemp put Georgia in this position, says Sara Henderson, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, a government watchdog group that has filed a brief supporting the lawsuit’s call for paper ballots. She said Kemp dismissed security warnings for years, only to “pull a 180 on paper ballots” as he mounts his bid for governor. Kemp faces Democrat Stacey Abrams in November.

A bill that would have moved the state to a paper-based system by 2020 was considered by the Georgia legislature this past session, but stalled in March and failed to garner enough votes for passage.

Broce said Kemp has been clear that voting machines are secure but need to be replaced and has taken action despite none being taken by the legislature. She pointed to a pilot project that tested paper ballots last November in municipal elections in Conyers, Georgia.

“Kemp is leading efforts to make a responsible move in the right direction,” Broce said.

Georgia is one of only a handful of states that rely on touchscreens with no auditable paper trail. Delaware, New Jersey, South Carolina and Louisiana use similar systems, and eight more have “a significant percentage of voters” using them, according to Marian Schneider, president of Verified Voting, a voting integrity group.

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