LISTEN: GPB's Peter Biello speaks with Rep. Sam Park about making hand-marked paper ballots the primary voting method in Georgia.

A voter drops their ballot into a ballot box to be counted.

New legislation in the Georgia House would make hand-marked paper ballots the primary way votes are counted in the state. Sponsors of the legislation say they want to inspire confidence in voters who may be wary of electronic voting machines. GPB's Peter Biello paid a visit to the State Capitol to speak with Representative Sam Park, a Democrat from Gwinnett County, who co-sponsored the legislation.

Peter Biello: This legislation advocates for hand-marked ballots as the primary way voters cast their vote. Why? Why is that important?

Sam Park: So this is a continuation of a position that myself and Democratic colleagues had back in 2019, when we were having the big debate. Hand-marked paper ballots are the gold standard for election security and integrity, according to the National Academy of Engineering and Sciences. And so we believe that this is the most secure, most accessible way to conduct our elections and will help ensure voter confidence as we move forward.

Peter Biello: So from the voter's perspective, when they step into the voting booth, what's going to be different if this becomes law?

Sam Park: For the most part, the primary difference, if this law — if this bill became law, would be we would no longer have those electronic voting machines, which is why — which has generated a lot of concern, certainly on both sides of the aisle.

Peter Biello: The state has spent an enormous amount of money on those voting machines, millions and millions of dollars. And you're proposing do away with them.

Sam Park: I think there's always opportunities to improve our — the manner in which we conduct our elections. Back in 2019, when we first had this debate, we brought up the fact that these new voting machines would cost 2 or 3 times more, than hand-marked paper ballots, despite him mark paper ballots being more secure. And so as we proceed, yes, I think it would make sense for us to continue to see if we can't move toward a manner that is more secure and more cost-effective in the long run.

Peter Biello: Gabriel Sterling, the the chief operating officer of the Secretary of State, has argued that this is going to increase, printing costs for polling places by $15 million across the state. Is that a concern? The cost of making this switch?

Sam Park: My understanding is that, you know, already, the Legislature — we've passed legislation for these watermarked ballots. That may cost additional moneys as well. I think taking into consideration the overall cost of this new system of voting, if it moves forward, it would be more cost-effective for taxpayers.

Peter Biello: This bill is meant to increase confidence in elections, and a lot of the dip in confidence has to do, frankly, with stuff that's not true, right? Fake information about elections and the way they're conducted. If this is passed, how is that going to change the atmosphere, change the belief in what's true and what's not about elections?

Sam Park: So I think based on studies, and based on, again, a report from the National Academy of Sciences and Engineering, hand-marked paper ballots are the gold standard for election integrity. I think Democrats, Republicans, independents, everyone can lean in and trust the fact that this would be the most secure way in which we can conduct our elections.

Peter Biello: If if passed, this bill wouldn't take effect until the general election, correct? After Nov. 1.

Sam Park: Correct.

Peter Biello: Okay. There is or there was a bench trial arguments just wrapped up in the bench trial, over this whole cybersecurity issue, security of elections. The Coalition for Good Governance was arguing for paper ballots as this bill legislates. What happens if that bench trial comes out, in a way that's contrary to your legislation? In other words, how are these two things moving in parallel?

Sam Park: Well, we'll see how the court, decides to proceed on, the pending litigation. Either which way, there's bipartisan support, for us to move toward a more secure way of conducting our elections. And this legislation provides, a great model for what that would look like.

Peter Biello: There's bipartisan support, but is there enough? The Republican Kemp administration and the secretary of state's office seems to be opposed to this move.

Sam Park: Certainly. You know, Gov. Kemp voted or decided to go with these electronic machines back in 2019. I think they've indicated that, you know, they'll continue to use this, utilize the existing system. But when I say bipartisan support, I mean with voters. Earlier this year, there was a lot of support from Republican voters for hand-marked paper ballots, just like there remains a lot of support, with Democrats to ensure, again, we are using the most secure way of conducting our elections, especially as we — we are likely to have competitive elections for the foreseeable future.

Peter Biello: And that's the bell calling you into the chamber. Rep. Sam Park, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it.

Sam Park: Thanks for having me.