Three different government agencies are investigating the theft of two computers at a Fulton County polling precinct just hours before polls opened in the Sept. 17 special election for seats on the city’s board of education and the county’s board of commissioners.
According to an Atlanta Police Department report, officers were called to the Grove Park Recreation Center at 750 Francis Place in west Atlanta after an alarm was tripped there.
“Upon arrival, officers located an unlocked door,” the report stated. “Officers checked the location and found no one inside. Attempts to contact a keyholder were unsuccessful and officers conducted directed patrols throughout the night. When employees arrived in the morning, they advised the kitchen had been ransacked and a microwave had been moved to a different room.
“Employees determined a number of food items and two express poll machines were missing from the location. At this time, investigators are gathering evidence and working to identify who is behind the burglary. The investigation continues.”
Because the two stolen computers, also known as express poll machines or books, have voter rolls data on them, the Fulton Department of Registration and Elections and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office are also investigating the incident.
The two computers stolen have the names, addresses, birthdates and embedded drivers license information for every voter in the state but no Social Security numbers. However, Tess Hammock, spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said the computers are tough to hack into.
“They’re small standalone electronic devices,” she said. “They’re not connected to the Internet and are password-protected. So unless you have that password, you couldn’t get into them.”
Hammock said the special election was not affected by the theft since Fulton has backup machines it was able to bring to the center to open the polls on time at 7 a.m.
“From our perspective, we’re not worried at all, and this is the last election we’ll use them,” Hammock said of the machines, which are part of an old voting machine system that originated in 2002.
Starting with the presidential primary in March, the state is switching to a new system from KnowInc. that uses iPads, known as poll pads, in place of the old express poll machines, Hammock said.
“With those new ones, those new poll pads will be similar in that they won’t be connected to the internet and can’t access WiFi,” she said. “If those are stolen, we’ll be able to track them, because they (have) iPad technology. What happens is if you get access to a poll pad and you open it, the only thing you can do is go through the guided app to check voters into polling locations. If you try to access WiFi, you can’t use it. That’s a lot of the security measures for the new system.”
Phone messages left with Rick Barron, the Fulton Department of Registration and Elections’ director, seeking comment were not immediately returned.