Fraud narrative drives attempts to change NH election law

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 11/17/2021 6:49:26 PM

Major changes would be required in the way New Hampshire conducts elections under bills proposed by Republican state legislators, many of whom have questioned the integrity of the last statewide vote.

Perhaps the biggest change would come under House Bill 1064, sponsored by Rep. Mark Alliegro, R-Campton, which would require every ballot to be counted by hand. A total of 814,000 votes were cast in last year’s election, and 80 percent of the ballots were tallied by optical scan machines. About one-third of the state’s municipalities count by hand.

Other legislative proposals seek to strengthen enforcement of election law, alter existing residency requirements, change the voter ID process and seek election audits.

Optical scan devices have been used by many states for decades and are judged reliable by the secretary of state’s office. In instances where voting machines are used, a voter marks the ballot and inserts it into the scanner. The paper ballot is retained in case of a recount.

No widespread problems have been reported with these devices, but Alliegro said the electronic vote count was off by several percentage points in some towns. He declined to provide specifics.

Ten New Hampshire legislators, all Republicans, are sponsoring the bill, which would prohibit the use of computers, scanners, or other electronic devices to count and tally ballots.

No estimate has been made on how much more it would cost to count all votes by hand.

“What’s more important, some inconvenience, a little extra expense — and it’s not clear it would even cost more — or an accurate vote?” Alliegro said. “No American would honestly say an accurate vote is not the most important thing.”

Although Republicans took control of the state House and Senate in the 2020 general election and retained the governorship, Donald Trump lost the state by 60,000 votes. He has claimed, without evidence, that voter fraud in many states stole the election from him. Polls show many GOP voters believe the claim and question the integrity of the election system.

The fiscal note on Alliegro’s bill states the requirement for a hand vote would result in an increase in the number of election-day workers and in the numbers of hours they must work.

“The New Hampshire Municipal Association does not have detailed information on how municipalities compensate their election-day workers, but believe most are compensated in some manner, either on an hourly basis or by a stipend,” the note states. “The increase in the number of workers and the hours worked would result in an indeterminable increase in local expenditures.”

Secretary of State Bill Gardner said the AccuVote optical scan voting machine has been in use in the state for more than 30 years and replaced older and more problematic lever voting or punch-card machines. The optical scan machines are self-contained, not connected to any network, and they predate internet technology.

“The machines have worked properly,” Gardner said. “They have withstood the test of time. The fact is that we have not had a community yet that has used this machine that has gone back and stopped using it.”

Liz Tentarelli, president of the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, said misinformation drives accusations of election fraud that are then used as rationale to change voter laws.

Requiring votes to be counted strictly by hand isn’t a good idea, she said.

“If you’re in a small town of under 5,000 people, you could probably do that although it would delay ballot results until midnight or 2 a.m., but could you imagine if all the votes in Manchester, Nashua or Concord had to be counted by hand?

“Our Constitution requires votes to be counted the day of the election or in the wee hours. Where in the world are we going to be able to find people to count thousands and thousands and thousands of ballots after the polls close and actually get an accurate count?

“We don’t believe this is moving elections forward. It would delay election results. There would be a big impact during the presidential primary. People want instant results from our first-in-the-nation primary. There is no evidence that a hand count is more accurate than an AccuVote scanning machine.”

Election recounts done by hand typically produce results similar to the machine totals.

Small discrepancies are sometimes seen as the result of people who fill out ballots incorrectly. In Windham, a discrepancy occurred last year when some absentee ballots were improperly folded, but the election result did not change.

Rep. Max Abramson, R-Seabrook, thinks election fraud is going unpunished, and is seeking legislation requiring the attorney general to prosecute such cases where there is clear and convincing evidence.

In an interview, he didn’t have specific instances to list that were not prosecuted.

“We hear about people voting multiple times, people who come here from as far away as Delaware and Pennsylvania and vote in our election,” he said.

Two people were convicted of criminal charges related to the 2020 election, one for wrongful voting and one for criminal trespass, according to the attorney general’s office. Three people were convicted of civil penalties, two for removal of political signs, and one for sign and campaign finance violations. The attorney general’s office also issued 12 cease and desist letters.

Abramson is also one of the sponsors of an attempt to require a forensic audit of the 2020 election results.

He also said he is backing a proposal designed to restrict the current process that allows people without proper identification to vote after signing an affidavit attesting to their qualifications.

His concern is that those who vote in this matter sometimes don’t return letters sent by election officials as part of the process to ensure their affidavit was truthful.

A proposed bill by Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, would “provide that only residents of the state may vote in elections.”

An aide to Birdsell said wording on the proposal hasn’t been finalized yet. It’s not clear how it would differ from current residency requirements in New Hampshire voting law.

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