Atlanta, GA – By now, it’s no secret that career politician Karen Handel has never met an elected office she didn’t want to occupy. But when she does actually get the job, she proves to be quite unskilled and unqualified.
“Karen Handel put her own personal agenda and ambition over her duties as Georgia’s chief elections officer, which is exactly what voters have come to expect from career politicians like Handel. Instead of heeding the advice of experts to properly administer our elections, she buried the report while having one foot out the door campaigning for her next elected office.” – Michael Smith, Communications Director
Eleven years ago, after Karen Handel had been elected as Georgia’s first Republican secretary of state since Reconstruction, Richard DeMillo, head of the Office of Policy Analysis and Research at Georgia Tech, got a call about an important project. The state’s election system, updated with new machines, needed a hard look.
“They said: Take a look at our processes, take a look at our technology, and give us your opinion,” DeMillo said. “I assigned some people from our Information Security Center to work on it.”
In May 2008, the Georgia Tech Information Security Center and Office of Policy Analysis and Research released its report, “A Security Study of the Processes and Procedures Surrounding Electronic Voting in Georgia.” A number of potential problems came up, from the transportation of election machines by prison laborers to password protection of machines and poll-watcher training.
“A malicious party with minimal knowledge of the voting machines could gain the confidence of the poll workers and thus access to the voting units,” the authors wrote. And the state’s Center for Election Systems, at Kennesaw State University, also was at risk. “The election center at Kennesaw State University fills a key role in Georgia’s statewide election procedures, which makes it a potential target of a systemic attack.”
In 2017, the threat became real; there was a data breach at Kennesaw State. While the Georgia secretary of state’s office said that key equipment was not touched, a lawsuit was filed in which worried parties demanded paper ballots in the June 20 special election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. The plaintiffs lost, but concerns about the state’s 15-year old election system have bubbled up as Democrat Jon Ossoff campaigns against his Republican opponent — Karen Handel.
According to DeMillo, she didn’t follow up on the report.
“She seemed very interested in getting this, at the time,” he said. “Once she was in office for a few months, we heard nothing.”
A recent report from Politico also illustrates a Secretary of State Handel who ignored multiple warnings and actively resisted assistance in ensuring the integrity of Georgia’s elections system:
Someone who should be particularly concerned about the center’s security lapses and the use of the touch-screen machines in the upcoming election is Handel, the Republican vying for the 6th Congressional District seat. In 2006, when Handel ran for secretary of state of Georgia, she made the security of the state’s voting systems one of her campaign issues. After her win, she ordered a security review of the systems and the procedures for using them.
Experts at Georgia Tech conducted the review and found a number of security concerns, which they discussed in a report submitted to Handel. But, oddly, they were prohibited from examining the center’s network or reviewing its security procedures. Richard DeMillo, who was dean of computing at Georgia Tech at the time and led the review, told Politico he and his team argued with officials from the center in Handel’s office, but they were adamant that its procedures and networks would not be included in the review.
“I thought it was very strange,” says DeMillo. “It was kind of a contentious meeting. The Kennesaw people just stamped their foot and said ‘Over our dead body.’”
Although Handel could have insisted that the center’s network be included in the security review, she didn’t. But when DeMillo’s team submitted a draft of their report, he says she sent it back instructing them to add a caveat about the center’s absence from the review. It reads: “The Election Center at Kennesaw State University fills a key role in Georgia’s statewide election procedures, which makes it a potential target of a systematic attack. We did not have sufficient information to evaluate the security safeguards protecting against a centralized compromise at the state level.”
But once they delivered the finished report to Handel, DeMillo says, “We never heard anything more about it.” It’s not clear whether Handel’s office acted on recommendations made in the report. (Handel’s campaign office did not respond to a call for comment.)