Opinion: Safe and secure elections

By JULES GOOD and CHRISTINE FAJARDO

Published: 03-12-2023 6:30 AM

Jules Good is a selectperson in Somersworth. Christine Fajardo is an alderwoman in Manchester.

Safe and secure elections are a cornerstone of the New Hampshire ethos, and we have a long tradition of local, community-centered election workers and volunteers leading the country when it comes to administering elections. Local election officials are the bedrock of our democracy, and our state must do what we need to ensure they have what they need to run our elections smoothly and securely.

As a selectperson and alderwoman, we know that in these fraught times when democracy seems fragile, our election systems and those who run them are in dire need of support. That is why we’re supporting SB 73 and HB 447, known as the Election Heroes Act, which had a committee hearing last week.

The majority of our cities and towns use ballot counting devices, which are shown to be more accurate and faster than hand counting votes. But the machines in use in most towns now are wildly outdated and need to be replaced. This is because the current machines cannot be guaranteed to work beyond the 2024 elections, and the parts to fix them are no longer being manufactured.

Just like we need to regularly replace cell phones, computers, and other pieces of technology when it becomes outdated, our ballot counting machines must be updated. Because of their age, the machines consistently need parts and servicing. If there is an issue with a machine and the parts to fix it aren’t available, the town isn’t able to purchase another one, which puts our election system at risk.

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) allocating millions of dollars to New Hampshire for voting infrastructure updates like purchasing new machines. Today, the Secretary of State’s office has an investment fund worth $12.8 million to use for election purposes just like this. The proposed Election Heroes Act would create a grant system to be administered by the Secretary of State’s office to distribute these funds to towns that need them. These funds can also be used for electronic poll books and to purchase secure laptops for supervisors of the checklist to use only to work on ElectioNet, the statewide voter checklist system.

Without this bill, once new ballot counting devices are approved by the Ballot Law Commission, cities and towns will bear the entire financial burden of upgrading their equipment, and they may have a short turnaround between new devices being approved and purchasing them before 2025. If towns aren’t able to budget for new devices before AccuVote machines are retired, they may have to hand count all ballots, which is shown to be a less reliable and less accurate method of counting.

By passing the Election Heros Act, the existing fund will improve the election night experience for election officials and voters alike and will ease local community budgets, many of which have voiced that they cannot budget in time to purchase new machines on the timeline needed.

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As a disabled election worker, Jules knows that our current processes bar many people from participating in running elections. Funding for better equipment ensures the accessibility of the process not only for voters but for election workers as well.

Given the increased concern around ballot machines and voter fraud, Christine can’t tell you how many times the old machines spit out ballots, which is disturbing for voters. Additionally, the idea that the old machines can read the ballot from any direction and either side creates a lot of concern for people. New machines have the potential to reassure voters and build confidence in election results.

We’re proud of New Hampshire elections, and want to see our state’s strong track record of safe, secure elections and successful administration continue. That’s why we’re in full support of SB 73  HB 447, the Election Heroes Act, and we encourage you to reach out to your state representatives to demand the passage of this bill if you care about our elections, too.

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