Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp has changed Defense lawyers. Assistant state Attorney General Cristina Correia gave notice to the judge and other involved attorneys that her office is “withdrawing from the case.” Plaintiff’s filed a lawsuit questioning the state’s antiquated and flawed AccuVote touchscreen voting machines and three days later, a critical server computer and both backups were intentionally destroyed. The world may never know if Georgia’s November election was compromised.
Correia’s official reason for quitting is a conflict of interest according to inside sources. “Too many co-defendants with potential differences in strategy, approach, etc.” a spokesman for Kemp’s Gubernatorial campaign states. The Plaintiff’s attorney representing Coalition for Good Governance thinks there is a lot more to it than that. Marilyn Marks insists that Kemp shows a pattern of hiding the facts, maybe even from the AG’s office. “There have been multiple conflicting stories of how and when the evidence on the servers was destroyed.”
The controversy started when an independent security researcher in the Atlanta area stumbled onto an unsecured election server used as “a statewide staging location for key election-related data.” Logan Lamb notified the center’s director in August of 2016 that “there is a strong possibility your site is already compromised.” That email was sent just three months before the November Presidential election.
Lamb told the officials that “electronic polling books could have been altered in Georgia’s biggest counties to add or drop voters or to scramble their data.” Enemies might have “altered the templates of the memory cards used in voting machines” which would slant the outcome. Another possibility would be changing “ballot-building” data files which could change the vote count.
The public was kept in the dark until this past June when national headlines reported that the wide open security holes exposing personal data on 6.7 million voters, along with a list of passwords used by county officials to access other files, still had not been fixed.
Plaintiff’s filed suit on July 3, 2017. Days later, on July 7, Kennesaw State University technicians for the state’s Center for Elections Systems wiped the server and both backups. It is not known at this time who issued the order but Kemp swears it wasn’t him. His office claims they “had nothing to do with the decision to clear the servers” and had no advance warning it was going to happen.
The KSU story is that “the system’s technology had become outdated and the data was erased so the server could be ‘repurposed.'” The servers are being readied for the 2018 elections.
The Secretary of State’s initial reaction was outrage, calling the incident, “undeniable ineptitude at KSU’s Center for Elections Systems,” when he went on local public radio. Since then, he backtracked considerably. He erased a post that used the same language from his Facebook page. His latest position is “the data erasure of the server was consistent with standard IT practices and not undertaken to delete evidence.”
Not just any evidence, the server data not only would have answered all the key questions raised by the Plaintiff’s lawsuit, it also would have shown if hackers ever found the wide open back door and used it.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that the whole escapade seems awfully fishy. Attorney Marks explains it this way, “I don’t think you could find a voting systems expert who would think the deletion of the server data was anything less than insidious and highly suspicious.” Richard DeMillo, a computer scientist at Georgia Tech explains, “clearing the server forestalls any forensic investigation at all. People who have nothing to hide don’t behave this way.”
Erasing the drive to destroy the evidence is not necessarily illegal. According to former prosecutor J. Tom Morgan, unless there is an active court order to protect the evidence, its loss is not a violation. It still isn’t good though. “it could seriously damage the defendants’ case,” Morgan asserts.
There still may be another copy of the data in existence, if so, it is in the hands of the FBI. They made an “image” copy of the main server’s hard drive in March when they finally got around to investigating the security flaws exposed by Lamb. At this point, they are playing it close to the vest and have not confirmed or denied whether or not they still have the copy or if it has been analyzed.
According to a statement released by Kemp on Wednesday, the law firm of Roy Barnes, a former Governor himself, will take over the case to Defend the Secretary of State, who is now running for Governor. “Governor Barnes and I don’t see eye to eye on everything, but he will be a zealous advocate for the State Election Board and the Secretary of State to show that these claims are baseless. We look forward to working with him as we continue to provide secure elections in Georgia.”
Barnes will also represent other named state officials from the elections department. It is unknown if the state will pick up the tab or if the legal work will be paid for by Kemp.