Towns will have two choices for ballot-counting machines – one proprietary, one open-source


Monitor staff

Published: 09-19-2023 6:10 PM

Voters may soon be seeing a different device when they cast their ballots: A follow-up to our current AccuVote machines or an open-source machine from a not-for-profit startup.

The state ballot law commission has chosen those two to replace the aging AccuVote ballot-counting machines that have been used in all cities and many towns for three decades. The vendors must still undergo some testing and follow federal election standards but as they’re both in operation elsewhere and have been tested in New Hampshire elections, that doesn’t seem a high hurdle.

The current machines can still be used until the ballot law commission de-certifies them. It will be up to cities and towns to decide when they want to switch, at the cost of about $7,000 per machine, or even if they want to revert back to hand-counting ballots on election nights.

The two systems chosen by the 10-person commission come from Dominion Voting Systems, which makes the follow-up to the AccuVote device, and from VotingWorks, a not-for-profit company that uses open-source software that can be viewed by the public. Its makers say that being open source helps dispel any suspicion about the accuracy or fairness of ballot-counting machines.

Both of these systems, as well as systems from two other companies that were not chosen, operate similarly. Voters fill in paper ballots by hand and feed them into the device, which uses light and software to determine which ovals have been filled. Aside from maintaining a count of votes for candidates and warrant articles, the devices have to deal with undervotes and overvotes – cases when too many or too few ovals are filled in for a particular race – as well as write-ins. Those are “kicked out” to a separate bin or hand-counting after polls are closed.

As with the current machines, neither of the new options would be connected to the Internet.

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In addition, all paper ballots will be kept for any recounts or audits.  Under state law, recounts must be done by hand.

New Hampshire has given communities the option of counting election ballots with machines for decades, including one system that required voters to fill in a broken arrow next to a preferred candidate’s name using a special pen with magnetic ink. The AccuVote system gained popularity partly because it can use ordinary pens.

Most communities switched to machine counting of ballots because it’s much faster and doesn’t require as many volunteers to stay up late every election night. Machine counting of ballots is also more accurate than doing it by hand, as can be seen by comparing recount results from close elections in places that use hand counting vs. those that use machine counting. 

New Hampshire adopted the AccuVote machines, then made by Diebold Inc., in the 1990s. Diebold has since been sold, ending up as part of Dominion, and the machines are now maintained by LHS Associates in Salem.  

Officials with LHS have warned the state that the AccuVote machines can’t last much longer since nobody makes the hardware and they run on Windows XP, an operating system that Microsoft stopped maintaining a decade ago. LHS says it has to buy discarded machines from other states to get parts for repairs.