Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told Oconee County Republicans last month that he wants the experience of voting with the newly rolled-out equipment at the presidential primary on March 24 to be equivalent to a positive experience at a fast food restaurant.
“We want it to be a great experience, just like when you go to Chick-fil-A,” Raffensperger said. “Who’s ever had a bad experience there? It’s like one in a billion. That’s the kind of experience we want voters in Georgia to have.”
Mike Dudgeon, policy director for the Office of Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, was the other speaker, and he called his boss “a deep-committed, faith based conservative Republican.”
“So one of the biggest things that he wants to focus on that the government has screwed up is healthcare,” Dudgeon said.
Dudgeon said his office is working on ways to produce more transparency in drug pricing, opening up opportunities for telemedicine, and getting government to share data it has with private companies to improve health care delivery.
New Machines Explained
“We are doing something that has not been done since 2002,” Raffensperger said at the very outset of his presentation on Jan. 27 at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville. Forty-two people were in the audience.
In 2002, for he first time, the state standardized voting equipment across all of the 159 counties with the adoption of direct recording electronic voting machines, Raffensperger said. They have not been updated since.
Raffensperger said the new equipment “is real simple. It is similar but different” from the old, now decertified, machines.
The equipment consists of a large touch screen, similar to, but larger than, the old one voters used, he said.
The voter makes all of her or his selections “just like you used to do,” he said. “Here’s where it gets different. When you press that button now, it is going to be to print the ballot, not to cast the ballot.”
“You have not voted yet. Before you vote you can look at all choices,” Raffensperger said. “You’ll be able to make sure you’ve got them right,” he said.
“When you feel you’ve got them right then you walk over to the ballot scanner,” he said. “On the top it has this little slit and that is where you put your ballot.
“When you press that button, immediately the ballot goes through there and what happens is it immediately records all of your votes for all of those different races.”
Raffensperger said the scanner also takes a visual image of the ballot “just like your office scanner does.
“So that visual image is recorded for all time. That is huge. But here’s the other thing. It also drops them in the ballot box,” he said.
“So for the first time, in 18 years, we’ll actually be able to do physical recounts when we have those close elections,” he added.
“What that really is going to give everyone is tremendous confidence that they got the election right,” Raffensperger said. “Because at the end of the day, we want to have accurate elections. But we also want people to have that confidence in the results.”
“But here’s the other thing we can do,” Raffensperger said. “We can do what’s called an audit–a risk limiting audit.”
In a risk limiting audit, a statistical sample of ballots is drawn, Raffensperger said, to check against the original count of the machine.
“Then you feel that confidence we got it right,” Raffensperger said. “I think at the end of the day that means people can go on to their other things in life and not be worried about election results.”
Other Office Activities
Raffensperger talked about elections for the first 10 minutes of his talk and then shifted, for about four more minutes, for discussion of other activities of the Secretary of State Office.
He said he was happy to be able to report that corporations can now do the registration renewals for one, two or three years, as they prefer, rather than only on an annual basis.
He said is office is focusing on helping small businesses so they can expand and add employees.
He also said he is trying to identify “fraudulent charities.”
“If you see something that looks crazy, call us,” he said.
He said he also is proud of She Leads GA, a program in is Office to financially empower women.
“The software that we use for the ballot marking device, the big screen, that is actually on Windows 10,” Raffensperger said during his presentation. “And so we can update that when we go to Windows 11, 12, 13. So we won’t be stuck with old software. We can update our software.”
Raffensperger said he would take questions, and the very first, from Bill Mayberry, an active member of the local Republican Party, dealt with security.
“Your office handles a tremendous amount of data,” Mayberry said. “What is the state of your hardware and software?”
“The voting machines. You want them to be secure. I get that,” Raffensperger said. “But the area that actually is a bigger concern is your voter data base. The back office.
“And so we’ve partnered with the Georgia Cyber Center down at Augusta University,” Raffensperger said, mentioning Alexander Schwartzman, who is dean of the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences, specifically.
The School of Computer and Cyber Sciences is located in the Hull-McKnight Building of the Georgia Cyber Center.
“We’re also going to be doing some work with the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech to strengthen some of the processes in elections,” Raffensperger said.
“So we understand how important it is. Some stuff we can talk about and some stuff we can’t talk about. But we understand how important cyber security is,” he said.
Raffensperger did not reference past issues of data security before he took over as Secretary of State.
In 2015, a data breach in the Office exposed 6.2 million registered voters’ personal information, including Social Security numbers and birth dates.
An employee of the Secretary of State Office was charged with violating protocol for handling the records.
In 2017, the Federal Bureau of Investigations opened an investigation of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University, which partnered with the Secretary of State Office, over another data breach.
In the end, investigators concluded that no voter data were involved in that breach.
More Questions On Security
“I was going to ask you about how easily these voting machines can be hacked,” Pam Hendrix, the Republican Party representative on the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration, asked.
“Not easy at all,” Raffensperger said. “They are very robust.”
Raffensperger said “the software for the electronic poll book is actually an iPad. So it is Microsoft’s technology. The information on it is encrypted.
“Now we understand, with encryption. That’s why you always try to stay one step ahead. But it’s very robust,” he said.
“We also have our systems out, out of location, where they are trying to bust into it and looking for any kind of weaknesses in it,” Raffensperger continued. “That is part of our cyber security defenses that we work on.”
“And they’re not connected to the Internet during voting?” Hendrix asked.
“No,” Raffensperger responded.
Dudgeon On Health Care
Dudgeon from Lt. Governor Duncan’s Office spoke for 10 minutes before he took questions, and he devoted eight of those minutes to healthcare. (Raffensperger spoke for a little more than 13 minutes before fielding questions.)
“The government has over time put more and more tentacles on how we deliver healthcare and now controls well over 50 percent of delivery,” Dudgeon said. “And we have really bad things like Obamacare and things like that.”
“So one thing that happened last year that I’m not sure people fully understand is very technical but the legislature passed and the governor signed a bill to allow us to have waivers from the U.S. healthcare bureaucracy about how we do healthcare in Georgia,” he continued.
“So if you remember we tried to repeal and replace Obamacare,” he said. “Tried and tried and couldn’t get that passed.
“So what the Trump administration has done, and it has been great about this, is they’ve told their bureaucracies, work with the states. Let them do what they need to do,” he said.
“And give them a waiver, in other words all these federal regulations of Obamacare, we’re going to put those over to the side and we not going to enforce them. We’re going to give you a waiver to actually let you do the things we want to do.”
Status Of Request
Dudgeon said Gov. Brian Kemp has submitted a plan to the Trump administration “for us to tailor Medicaid, not to expand it, but to basically allow a path in for those are working 20 hours a week or doing other equivalent job training to basically buy in, but with a small premium, and buy in to the program.
“And then on the Obamacare side,” Dudgeon said, “it allows essentially the state is going to be able to set up a different kind of plan which are not the Obamacare plan. We’re not going to use the U.S. exchange. The website Healthcare.gov, which was all a big mess.
“Instead Georgia is going to let private companies develop those different exchange–sign-up platforms and let people do that,” according to Dudgeon.
“All that should roll out next year if the federal government approves,” Dudgeon said. “And a point I want to make about that is what’s so great about the Trump administration is they are telling their bureaucracy to stand aside and to lower regulation and to give these waivers and let states and everybody else kind of do what they want.
“So it is unprecedented for someone to do this at the federal level and give that much flexibility to the state,” he said. “So we’re going to be moving the ball on that.”
“This year you’ll see legislation in the Georgia Legislature related to healthcare price transparency and drug pricing,” Dudgeon said. “ Everybody knows that drug pricing has gotten out of control.
“There are certain middlemen in the process called PBMs which actually end up doing a lot of the issues and there’s some real issues from the past where they’ve taken rebates and kept them that were supposed to go back to the consumers,” Dudgeon said. (PBM stands for Pharmacy Benefit Managers.)
“They’ve charged this price here and this price here and kept the spread. A lot of issues there,” Dudgeon said. “There are issues where no one really knows what the real price of these things in health care are.
“So you’ll see some bill where we’re going to require the insurance companies and the drug people and the people that are participating in the health care space to be honest about what their pricing is,” Dudgeon said.
“When people know what the price is, it’s a lot easier to kind of figure out that I can go get an MRI over here and it costs me $1,500 and over here at $12,000 and over here it’s $200,” Dudgeon continued.
“And so once that information becomes available to the public then the free market principles will help with the health care,” he concluded.
Not A Fix
“Now, is this going to fix health care?” Dudgeon said. “No. But it’s going to hopefully move the needle in the right direction.”
This will be the result of eliminating “regulations of Obamacare” and “having more free market principles in healthcare,” Dudgeon said.
“We’re going to be able to move the ball towards a little bit more free market while we can,” Dudgeon said, “while we have a friendly administration in the Trump administration to do these things while we can.
“Because there’ll be no–if the thing turns over we’re going to go hard in the other direction toward socialized medicine,” Dudgeon said. “So we feel we need to go far in the field while the time is to do it.”
Other bills are designed to expand healthcare access and “making sure that there’s no barriers to doing things like telemedicine,” according to Dudgeon.
The goal also is to make sure “there’s no artificial insurance company mandates that are preventing you from participating in it,” Dudgeon said.
“Anywhere, if we get a free market idea we can come up with we want to do that,” he added.
Make Data Available
“We’re also going to work at data because the government is not really good at in general looking at data,” Dudgeon said. “But all the private sector companies are doing a really good job taking all this data they have and making really good decisions about how much to tailor our product and what should we do.
“The government has all of this data about health insurance and their claims and Medicare and Medicaid and they don’t really do enough with it,” Dudgeon claimed.
“We’re going to be working to try to get through the state government inertia in order to try to get this data out there so we can get private sector companies to do the work,” Dudgeon said.
“Again we’re not trying to build a bunch of infrastructure inside the government itself,” he said. “We’re trying to make the government partner with the private sector.”
Dudgeon said Lt. Governor Duncan is trying to reform the foster care system, “Trying to do a little bit better job with how we deal with foster care here in Georgia.”
“There’s a lot of great faith based and other private based charities who work in foster care and adoption and we’re trying to make sure that those guys can partner as much as possible,” he said.
Duncan is working on “how to build an even better tech economy here in Georgia,” Dudgeon said.
Hendrix, who had questioned Raffensperger on voting security, asked Dudgeon about the budget issues facing the state.
“Of all the southeastern states, our tax revenue is growing slower than all of our neighbors around us,” Dudgeon said.
Dudgeon blamed Hurricane Michael in 2018, the decision by the legislature to “give a quarter point income tax cut” during the last session, and “all of these tax credits that are out there that we give to companies.
“The biggest one is almost a billion dollars in the entertainment film tax credit,” he said.
“There are some deficiencies in how that money is given out and the control,” Dudgeon said. “There’s also some deficiencies in how much. It does definitely add to the economy. But the question becomes, is it worth the cost?
“The legislature is going to be look at that,” he said.
The video below is of the entire Jan. 27 meeting of the Oconee County Republican Party.
Raffensperger began speaking after a brief introduction at 5:31 in the video.
Dudgeon began speaking after his brief introduction at 33:14.