Georgia Zoom Trial Interrupted With 9/11 Images, Porn

By Rosie Manins
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Law360 (September 11, 2020, 11:26 AM EDT) -- A Georgia federal court Zoom hearing on the state's use of electronic voting machines was interrupted mid-testimony Friday morning when images of the Sept. 11 attacks, pornography and a hand-drawn swastika took over screens.

The disturbing images appeared around 10:45 a.m. and were accompanied by jarring audio and wording that "Osama" was sharing their screen with the almost 100 people on the call, and at one point a man and woman could briefly be seen performing a sex act. Confused parties could be seen watching pictures of airplanes striking New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, exactly 19 years ago.

Court staff shut the Zoom hearing down after several minutes of their inability to control proceedings and the hearing resumed just before midday.

It was the second day of an evidentiary hearing as a handful of Georgia voters and election advocates try to force the state to use hand-marked paper ballots that they say are more reliable and secure than Georgia's electronic voting machines.

David D. Cross of Morrison & Foerster LLP, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said nothing like the Zoom interruptions had ever happened before in his experience. He said it's hard to know if it will have any impact on the case.

"Total surprise that it actually happened, but this is a known challenge with public online court proceedings," Cross told Law360 on Friday. "Can be challenging to balance the important need for public access with restricting those who want to interrupt the proceedings."

Bryan P. Tyson of Taylor English Duma LLP, lead counsel for the state, said the hearing interruption was also a first for him but that he wasn't completely surprised given the public posting of the link to the hearing.

"It highlights some of the challenges we face regarding virtual technology and access to courts, but we'll get through it," Tyson told Law360.

The plaintiffs argue the machines are unreliable, prone to hacking and other cybersecurity issues, and fail to meet the constitutional election standard of being transparent, fair, accurate and verifiable.

Georgia's stance is that its voting machines and system are in working order and give voters the necessary opportunities to verify their choices. The state contends that its auditing of machine-produced and recorded votes in future elections will uncover any issues before results are certified.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg is presiding over the case, which began in 2017. She said Friday she was concerned about long lines at the polls on Election Day.

"The longer the lines are, the more people are likely to leave," Judge Totenberg said.

During the second day of evidence, the plaintiffs detailed problems with voting equipment in Georgia's June 9 primary. Cross showed complaints from almost all metropolitan Atlanta counties about registered voters not being able to activate their voting cards or get paper ballots, despite waiting in line for up to six hours.

Rick Barron, in charge of registration and elections for Fulton County in metropolitan Atlanta, said machines used for voter check-in at several polling precincts were problematic during local run-off elections in August. He said that in some cases, only one voter was able to activate a voting card before the machine stopped issuing them.

At least two other metropolitan Atlanta counties experienced the same issue in August, Barron said.

But Chris Harvey, Georgia's elections director, said producing and preparing hand-marked ballots for all voters in the Nov. 3 election would be a huge challenge at this time, particularly for advance voting, which starts in a month. Harvey said the registration deadline for the Nov. 3 election in Georgia is Oct. 5 and far more voters than usual are expected to request absentee ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We would need to have hundreds of thousands of ballot pieces of paper printed, transported, secured and organized and train the poll workers to give them out," Harvey said. "It would be a major undertaking."

Eric Coomer of Dominion Voting Systems Inc., which makes the election system that Georgia uses, said settings of the ballot marking and printing machines can be tweaked to minimize errors in classifying voters' marks. He defended the rigorous testing Georgia's system went through before being implemented. And he cautioned that many voters end up filling out hand-marked ballots incorrectly.

But California software engineer and election machine security expert Ben Adida said a nationwide trend toward the use of paper ballots is a positive one, as it supports clear voter intent. Adida, who is helping Georgia prepare its "risk limiting audit" of the Nov. 3 election results, said that type of audit is the second best thing a state can do for election security, after using paper ballots, hand-marked or otherwise.

Computer science and cybersecurity expert Vinnie Liu, of San Francisco, said Georgia's ballot-marking devices use outdated software and need an in-depth review.

"The concern that I would have in a system like this, and what I would tell a client, is that the design of the security system in this situation is not something I would call secure," Liu said. "I think the votes can be tampered with."

The hearing closed to the public at 5 p.m. Friday for testimony about information subject to a protective order. Judge Totenberg said any closing arguments the parties want on the record can be submitted to the court in writing.

The plaintiffs are represented by David D. Cross, John P. Carlin, Lyle F. Hedgecock, Mary G. Kaiser, Robert W. Manoso, Veronica Ascarrunz and Eileen M. Brogan of Morrison & Foerster LLP; Halsey G. Knapp Jr. and Adam M. Sparks of Krevolin & Horst LLC; Bruce P. Brown of Bruce P. Brown Law LLC; Robert A. McGuire III of Robert McGuire Law Firm; Cary Ichter of Ichter Davis LLC; and John Powers and David Brody of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The state is represented by Vincent R. Russo, Josh Belinfante, Carey A. Miller, Alexander Denton and Brian E. Lake of Robbins Ross Alloy Belinfante Littlefield LLC; and Bryan P. Tyson, Bryan F. Jacoutot, Diane F. LaRoss and Loree A. Paradise of Taylor English Duma LLP.

The case is Curling et al. v. Raffensperger et al., case number 1:17-cv-02989, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

--Editing by Alyssa Miller.

Clarification: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect Ben Adida's testimony on election security.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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Case Information

Case Title

Curling et al v. Raffensperger et al


Case Number

1:17-cv-02989

Court

Georgia Northern

Nature of Suit

Civil Rights: Other

Judge

Amy Totenberg

Date Filed

August 08, 2017

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