Liz Wester: State deserves modern and secure elections

For the Monitor
Published: 7/2/2018 12:10:08 AM

Earlier this year, Congress agreed to send $380 million for states to upgrade and modernize their election systems to begin to protect against any and all types of foreign interference heading into the midterm elections this fall. Of that $380 million, New Hampshire recently applied for approximately $3.1 million.

When this funding was announced, Secretary of State Bill Gardner stated that he would like to use these additional resources to supplement New Hampshire’s remaining Help America Vote Act funds. While HAVA funds are used to improve how we administer our elections, they are not used to secure or modernize our voting systems. In a recent article, Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said that his office is “evaluating a number of options” to ensure that the online database of voters is secure.

Given the serious, immediate and known threats looming ahead of the 2018 midterms, we, the New Hampshire Campaign for Voting Rights, are happy the secretary of state’s office recognizes the importance of using these funds to improve our election security. However, this proposal doesn’t come close to going far enough. We firmly believe that New Hampshire must use these federal funds to make serious investments in the physical machinery of our democracy.

New Hampshire’s election infrastructure is failing. Cities and towns are still using the first generation of tabulators, machines that were purchased 20 years ago, to count your ballots. ElectioNet, the online database that contains our voter file, has gone far too long without updated security features and a modernized system to help local election officials do their job more easily and efficiently. New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation tradition means we should be leading the country with our election infrastructure, but we are not.

Last legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill allowing a trial of electronic poll books, which simply and safely modernize the check-in process at the polls while minimizing the work that cities and towns have to do after the election. However, the process for implementing them is being slowed to a crawl by inefficient and bureaucratic procedures in the office of the secretary of state. The $3.1 million provided by the federal government should be allocated, in part, to alleviating the issue of funding these programs, allowing New Hampshire to invest in its democracy at little or no direct cost to the taxpayer.

Other states are also using their federal funding to update their registration systems with secure and modern tools like online voter registration and even automatic voter registration. These systems help our state have accurate, up-to-date voter rolls while reducing red tape for eligible citizens who want to register and will go a long way toward keeping our voter rolls up to date.

This money can be used responsibly to help New Hampshire move forward and be proactive against the impending foreign interference in our elections. We know there is a threat, and that’s why we feel strongly that these funds should be used for their intended purpose of modernizing and securing elections. We hope that the secretary of state reaches out to municipal clerks and other local election officials, listens to their needs and begins implementing the positive reforms that our state needs.

We are proudly the first-in-the-nation state; let’s act like it.

(Liz Wester is the state director for America Votes New Hampshire, which helps to coordinate the New Hampshire Campaign for Voting Rights.)

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