E arlier this year, the GOP-led Legislature was quick to jump on the notion that our state’s elections are a fragile, vulnerable thing in need of shoring up. Their answer, backed by Gov. Chris Sununu, was to make it harder for new voters to cast their ballots.
It was a transparent attempt to limit voting by those who might be more likely to vote Democrat — the poor; new Massachusetts transplants; and, most of all, college students. And their effort — Senate Bill 3 — is being challenged in the courts.
At the same time, lawmakers made clear they don’t really value the integrity of our state’s elections, by killing in committee a bill to authorize local moderators to conduct verification recounts of machine-counted ballots. Senate Bill 109 couldn’t have been any simpler. It would have added a paragraph of language to existing election law saying local moderators have the discretion to conduct recounts to verify machine results.
After years of trying unsuccessfully to convince the Secretary of State’s Office that local ballots ought to be subject to auditing by local officials to ensure accuracy of machine-counting, a group of lawmakers — Swanzey Republican Jim McConnell and Peterborough Democrat Ivy Vann among them — is again proposing legislation to allow for local auditing of ballots.
This effort, House Bill 1520, would limit the scope of ballots that are exempt from public records laws and set up a process by which cities and towns can hand-recount ballots tallied by machine.
Reports stemming from the 2016 presidential election have made clear the most-effective way to interfere with, and perhaps even change the results of, our elections is by gaining access to the machines that are increasingly responsible for tabulating the results of voting.
While state elections officials swear by the process used to ensure accuracy and security, every week brings another story of supposedly secure systems being breached. And the machines used in New Hampshire to count votes, while they have a record of accuracy, are aging. They are carefully managed upon being put into service, but any machine can malfunction and under current law, unless one candidate contests the results, any errors may well go undetected.
The main argument against verification hand-counting is cost; that local elections workers are often paid hourly and recounting a race would add time and, thus, money, to the equation. But the use of the machines in the first place greatly shortens the time needed to count ballots in those communities, so the net result of using machines, but verifying a small percentage of races, ought to be a savings.
This issue has been raised for at least a decade now, with lawmakers continually bowing to the secretary of state’s view. And often, that office’s argument has boiled down to: State law doesn’t allow for such local auditing.
This is a perfect opportunity for the Legislature to correct that situation before advancing technology makes the idea of “election integrity” a punchline.