In the latest ballot-counting news to emerge in New Hampshire, the state Attorney General’s Office announced last week it had examined 179 ballots in Laconia’s Ward 6 that were discovered during the city’s last municipal election.

The office didn’t say who the votes were for but did reveal the ballots — found in a pocket on the side of a ballot-counting machine — had come from several elections in 2020, including the state primaries of both major parties. Officials have consistently said there’s no claim there were enough votes missed to have swayed any of the elections.

Thus far, what’s been determined is that the ballots had been set aside because the machines counting them couldn’t read them properly. That could have been a machine error or something about the ballots themselves, though the latter seems more likely since there were so few. The ballots were supposed to be removed from the pocket and counted by hand on each election night, but somehow weren’t.

What remains to be revealed is how Laconia officials determined the votes cast and those counted matched in five separate elections in which ballots remained uncounted.

The AG’s Office says it will continue to seek that answer, but all evidence thus far leads to one inescapable conclusion: human error. Someone was supposed to retrieve those ballots to be counted and failed to do so.

So much for the inherent superiority of hand-counting over machine-counting ballots, as was the premise of an ill-advised House bill this session. That legislation, House Bill 1064, would have mandated all New Hampshire votes be counted by hand. Most communities in the state have used AccuVote machines to speed the process for decades. Fortunately, following a unanimous recommendation of “inexpedient to legislate” by the House Elections Committee, the House voted to kill the bill.

Election “integrity” has been an issue of growing concern — at least among conservatives — for the past decade. This reached a fever pitch under the guidance of President Donald Trump, who claimed “voter fraud” cost him several million votes in the 2016 election, which he won, and even more in 2020, when he lost. His incessant claims, proven baseless in dozens of lawsuits across a handful of states, as well as recounts in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin, still led his followers to storm the U.S. Capitol last year, in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the vote. But Trump isn’t the only one making hay off the “voter fraud” spiel.

Gov. Chris Sununu once claimed “everyone knows” that busloads of Massachusetts residents routinely made guided trips to the New Hampshire polls on election days to vote for Democrats, taking advantage of this state’s same-day registration law. He was forced to backtrack on that claim when longtime Secretary of State Bill Gardner vowed no such voter fraud had ever been found. Gardner, in fact, and his successor Dave Scanlan, have insisted throughout that the Granite State’s elections are not only safe and accurate, but a model for the rest of the nation.

As for counting ballots, at least in New Hampshire, that has never seemed a real issue. But if some officials think it is and point to the ballot-counting machines as a vulnerability, there is a step the state can, and should take, in the name of “integrity.”

As reliable as the AccuVote machines are, they are not infallible. And if towns and cities can be entrusted with deciding whether to use them, their election officials should be allowed discretion to conduct hand audits or similar testing to verify results.

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