Campaign to eliminate N.H.'s ballot counting machines hits a wall

A ballot counting machine in New Hampshire. (Jordyn Haime/NHPR)
A ballot counting machine in New Hampshire. (Jordyn Haime/NHPR)

A newly animated movement to eliminate ballot counting machines in New Hampshire stalled out this week at the State House and in town elections, where the issue was on the ballot in about a dozen communities.

On Wednesday, the House Election Law Committee unanimously voted against a bill that would have required all future elections in New Hampshire to be hand counted. And the day before, voters across the state rejected similar mandates at the local level.

Cities and towns can choose whether to count ballots by hand or by machine. Most opt to use the AccuVote, the only machine currently approved for use in New Hampshire, and hand-counting is largely limited to towns with 2,000 voters or less.

Local activists and some Republican state lawmakers, spurred by mistrust in the outcome of the 2020 election, have been pushing to hand-count all of New Hampshire’s future elections. In addition to rallying behind a bill to ban machines statewide, they also organized petition drives to put the issue before voters in a handful of communities this spring.

House Election Law Committee Chairwoman Barbara Griffin, a Republican from Goffstown, said members of the panel waited to finalize their opinion on the statewide ban on vote-counting machines until voters had a chance to weigh in on the issue in Tuesday’s town elections.

“There is no town that voted yesterday that supported the elimination of the counting devices that are currently used,” Griffin said. “So I think that to require this for every community in the state would not be appropriate.”

Griffin said the Ballot Law Commission has the ultimate authority over ballot counting machines in New Hampshire, and this legislation could also interfere with that. The full House will still have a chance to weigh in on the bill at an upcoming session.

While it’s not clear exactly how many communities were voting on similar measures this town meeting season, NHPR confirmed the issue was on the ballot in at least 10 towns in Tuesday’s elections. In most of those communities, voters overwhelmingly supported keeping their vote-counting machines. Other communities could take up the issue in town meetings later this week.

Only in Milton, where residents were asked whether their local moderator “should consider” moving to a hand count, was the vote close: 329 people supported the measure, while 340 opposed.

The measure also failed in Windham, where the recent campaign to eradicate New Hampshire’s voting machines began. There, 61% of voters supported sticking with their ballot counting devices.

One community did recently opt to revert to hand counting, though the issue wasn’t on the ballot during Tuesday’s town meeting. Milan Town Clerk Cynthia Woodward said she recently advised her select board that hand counting would be a better fit, due to the size of the voting population and the expense of keeping up with maintaining the town’s ballot counting device.

With only about 800 voters, Milan was one of the smallest communities in the state to count by machine — until this spring. Woodward said the town wanted to hand count its local elections this week to prepare for the bigger state and federal elections coming up this fall.

And while some activists questioning the integrity of the ballot counting devices pointed to Milan as a victory for their cause, Woodward said her decision wasn’t driven by any concerns about election security.

“Our machines are very secure,” she said.

NHPR's Todd Bookman contributed to this story.

This story is a production of New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New Hampshire Public Radio.



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