A computer server that was holding critical data relating to a lawsuit was wiped shortly after the suit was filed. Technicians at the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University, the organization that runs the state’s election system, destroyed the data on July 7. An email from an assistant state attorney general to the case’s plaintiffs revealed the wipe.
As reported by AP News, the lawsuit was filed in Georgia by election reform advocates against election officials in the state. The intention of the suit was to force the state of Georgia to retire its antiquated and often criticized election technology.
The server being examined came under fire in June when a security expert pointed out vulnerabilities in the system, including a gaping hole that wasn’t addressed during a six month period after he brought it to the attention of election authorities.
It isn’t clear who authorized the server’s data to be wiped.
The election center answers to Brian Kemp, the secretary of state for the state of Georgia. Kemp is running for governor in 2018 and is listed as the main defendant in the lawsuit.
A secretary of state’s office spokeswoman said on Wednesday, “We did not have anything to do with this decision.” She added that the office was not warned in advance that the wipe would take place.
Michael Barnes, the Kennesaw election center’s director, referred all questions to the press office at the university. The organization declined to comment.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are predominately Georgia voters. They want the 15-year-old vote-management system to be scrapped. The 27,000 AccuVote touchscreen voting machines are known to be hackable devices that don’t rely on paper ballots and don’t maintain hardcopy proof to demonstrate voter intent.
An independent security review of the server that housed ballot definitions and electronic poll book data was considered crucial to the plaintiff’s case, as they hoped it would show the unreliability of the system.
According to Georgia Tech computer scientist Richard DeMillo, wiping the server data “forestalls any forensic investigation at all.”
He added, “People who have nothing to hide don’t behave this way.”
A review of the server data could have revealed whether the most recent elections in Georgia were compromised by hackers. The plaintiffs assert that the results of last November’s election, as well as a special congressional runoff in June, cannot be trusted.
Kemp insists that the election system is security, but Marilyn Marks, a plaintiff in the case and the executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance believes that the data was erased because the system isn’t secure.
She said, “I don’t think you could find a voting systems expert who would think the deletion of the server data was anything less than insidious and highly suspicious.”
Former Georgia prosecutor J.Tom Morgan stated that the destruction of the data would not be considered a criminal act unless it was done in violation of a protective court order, which did not appear to be in place.
The FBI did have a copy of the server’s data image in March as part of their investigation into the security hole. The email that discussed the server wipe reportedly showed the state attorney general’s office’s intent to “[reach] out to the FBI to determine whether they still have the image.”
Any other backups of the data also appear to be gone, with two backup servers being wiped clean on August 9.