Jan. 17—CONCORD — A bill that would get rid of automated voting machines attracted a crowd at the State House, with advocates claiming that counting ballots by hand is more accurate than using machines.
But local election officials warned that legislation to get rid of these machines would require more volunteers at the polls and put at risk New Hampshire’s reputation for timely reporting of final results on election night.
State Rep. Mark Alliegro, R-Campton, said his concern about the accuracy of automated voting machine counts goes back before the 2020 election controversy in Windham where there was a big discrepancy between the machine and hand recount for House seats.
“I have known for years there are problems with voting machines. This is not about Windham, this isn’t about 2020, this is about losing votes, votes swallowed by machines,” Alliegro said.
This legislative campaign to outlaw automated vote counting machines (HB 1064) attracted the biggest crowd of all 266 bills heard during the first week of hearings before House and Senate committees at the State House.
Milford Town Clerk Joan Dargie, speaking for the New Hampshire Town and City Clerks Association, said two-thirds of all communities use the automated machines because they are reliable.
“Machine counts have been found to have been more accurate than hand counts,” Dargie said.
“In Milford, we have over 200 volunteers working every election and if this passed we would need to find at least 100 more.”
In Windham, a forensic audit team concluded in July the voter discrepancy was due to the town’s improper use of a machine, which made folds in absentee ballots that caused automated machines to read the ballots incorrectly.
Alliegro analyzed the more than 100 recounts that had been done in the past three state elections.
He said on average a hand recount, the number of total votes cast went up by an average of one-quarter of 1% vs. the total found from automated voting machines.
Opponents of the bill said by Alliegro’s own study, that means the voting machine was better than 99.5% accurate.
But Alliegro pointed out during now-retired Secretary of State Bill Gardner’s 45-year tenure, there were 322 elections decided by fewer than 20 votes.
“We know five or six votes can make all the difference. Don’t we owe it to the integrity of our elections to get this right?” Alliegro asked.
State Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, said he preferred automated vote counting as this can remove the chance that a corrupt, local election official could rig a hand count.
For example, Berry said the election selectperson in his home ward ran and lost against him for his state representative seat.
“You are asking me to ask my previous opponent to count ballots in my next election. That concerns me,” Berry said.
Ex-Rep. Shelly Uscinski, a Merrimack Republican, said the bias cited in Berry’s case would be uncovered since the counting of hand ballots takes place with observers from both parties present.
Voters in any town can go back to paper ballots
Rep. Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien, R-Derry, said voters in any community can decide at any point to go from automated voting machines to hand-counted ballots.
“Isn’t the system we have working right now?” she asked.
Acting Secretary of State David Scanlan said his office takes no position on this legislation.
Gardner has in the past defended the use of the AccuVote automated voting machine that’s exclusively used in New Hampshire, calling it among the most accurate ones used in the nation.
Many speakers at last Thursday’s packed hearing in Representatives Hall insisted these automated voting machines could be tampered with.
“We don’t trust too many of our elected representatives anymore,” said Russan Chester of Bedford.