A computer server in the middle of a lawsuit against Georgia election officials was secretly wiped clean after the lawsuit was filed by voting rights advocates, The Associated Press reports.
The AP reports that technicians at the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University, which operates the state’s election system, irretrievably destroyed the data on the server.
The move was revealed in an email from an assistant state attorney general to the plaintiffs in the case, which was obtained by the AP.
The lawsuit was brought by a number of voting rights groups to force Georgia to stop using its controversial and outdated election technology.
The server, which contained key election-related data, was said to have a gaping security hole that was not repaired for half a year after a security expert discovered it and reported his findings to election officials.
The AP reports that it’s still unclear who ordered the data to be wiped.
The elections center is run by Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is running for governor in 2018.
His office insisted “we did not have anything to do with this decision” and did not know of the wipe ahead of time.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are calling for the state to get rid of its 15-year-old vote-management system, specifically, their 27,000 AccuVote touchscreen voting machines which some security experts say are vulnerable to hacks and don’t use hardcopy records for such possible instances.
The plaintiffs sought to have an independent security review of the now-wiped server to show how vulnerable the system is.
A Georgia Tech computer scientist told the AP that wiping the server “forestalls any forensic investigation at all.”
“People who have nothing to hide don’t behave this way,” he added.
Marilyn Marks, the executive director of Coalition for Good Governance, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit, agreed with that assessment.
“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,” she said.
According to the AP, two backup servers were also wiped clean just as the lawsuit proceeded to federal court.
The FBI is said to have made an exact data image of the server in March when they investigated the security hole but it’s unclear if the image still exists or if it was altered while in custody.
Emails suggest that the servers were wiped while technicians at the Kennesaw State elections center unsuccessfully tried to fix the main server’s security vulnerability.
During the failed attempt, the data of Georgia’s 6.7 million voters was exposed for months. The data includes Social Security numbers and party affiliation, along with passwords used by officials to access the election management system.
The hole was first discovered by security expert Logan Lamb, who told the election center’s director “there is a strong possibility your site is already compromised.”
Lamb believes that electronic polling books may have been altered in the state’s largest counties to add or remove voters or mess with their data. Hackers could have even skewed results in the voting machines.
Now, it will be impossible to know unless the FBI releases their copy of the server image.