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Hearing to be held after county ditched new voting machines

In this Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 photo, a touchscreen voting machine and printer are seen in a voting booth, in Paulding, Ga. Georgia's state election board has scheduled an emergency hearing Wednesday, March 11, 2020, to determine whether a county election board violated state laws and election rules when it voted to use hand-marked paper ballots instead of the state's new voting machines for the presidential primary. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
In this Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 photo, a touchscreen voting machine and printer are seen in a voting booth, in Paulding, Ga. Georgia's state election board has scheduled an emergency hearing Wednesday, March 11, 2020, to determine whether a county election board violated state laws and election rules when it voted to use hand-marked paper ballots instead of the state's new voting machines for the presidential primary. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ATLANTA, Ga. – Georgia's state election board plans to hold an emergency hearing Wednesday to discuss whether election officials in one county violated state law or election rules when they decided not to use the state's new voting machines for the presidential primary.

The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections voted 3-2 last week to sideline the new machines in favor of hand-marked paper ballots. Board Chairman Jesse Evans said the board found it “impracticable” when using the new machines to protect ballot secrecy and allow sufficient monitoring to prevent tampering as required by state law.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who chairs the State Election Board, issued a notice two days later setting the Wednesday hearing in Athens.

Athens, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) east of Atlanta, is home to the University of Georgia, and surrounding Clarke County represents about 1% of the state’s active voters, according to voter numbers on the secretary of state's website.

The March 24 presidential primaries mark the first statewide test for Georgia's new $103 million voting system, which combines electronic touchscreens with printed ballots that are tallied by a scanner. Some election integrity advocates have argued the big, bright touchscreens with their large fonts and upright positioning make it easy to see how other people are voting.

Georgia law requires all of the state's 159 counties to use the new voting system. But it also allows county election officials to use paper ballots if using the electronic machines becomes “impossible or impracticable.”

The Athens-Clarke County attorney warned county election board members before their vote that it would be difficult to meet that standard in court after the county's own election supervisor insisted the machines could be arranged in a way that protects voters' privacy.

The hearing notice says the county board should be prepared to respond to questions and present testimony and evidence for “its determination that it is ‘impossible or impracticable’ to use electronic ballot markers in the ongoing election."

The state board and the county board will both be allowed to have a lawyer, subpoena witnesses and documents, and respond to and present evidence, the notice says.