More post-election audits might raise voter confidence, committee is told

  • Dick Swett (left) and Bradford Cook (center, holding glasses), co-chairs of the Special Committee on Voter Confidence, and committee member Jim Splaine listen to testimony on Tuesday, July 12, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Patricia Piecuch, elections division director with Secretary of State office, shows the current AccuVote ballot counting machine which the New Hampshire uses to count votes during a demonstration at the Records and Archives building on Ratification Way in Concord on Tuesday, July 12, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • David Scanlan, secretary of state of New Hampshire, speaks to the committee and the crowd at the Records and Archives building on Ratification Way, at the fifth “listening session” held by the eight-person committee on Tuesday, July 12, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • David Scanlan, NH Secretary of State, looks over documents during a meeting of the Special Committee on Voter Confidence on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Patricia Piecuch, elections division director with Secretary of State office, shows the current AccuVote ballot counting machine which the state uses to count votes during a demonstration at the Records and Archives building in Concord on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/14/2022 4:52:56 PM

When the committee looking for ways to raise voter confidence came to Concord in front of a standing-room-only crowd, one idea stood out during hours of discussion: Post-election audits.

“In a lot of other states, where they do more with random audits, the temperature is a little bit less hot,” said Jeff Silvestro, president of LHS Associates, the company that makes and services the aging machines used to count New Hampshire’s ballots, as well as ballots in numerous other states and localities. “There’s disagreement … but not to the extent we’ve had here.”

Others agreed.

“Official audits help increase confidence among voters who have lost confidence,” said Russell Muirhead, a Democratic state representative from Hanover and Dartmouth College professor of government, who discussed election-related research.

Even David Kiley of Atkinson, one of several speakers who expressed skepticism about the security of ballot-counting machines or even the need for them, supported the idea of double-checking voting tallies at randomly selected polling places.

Kiley also urged the committee to make it easier for ordinary people to request them: “We need some way to allow citizens to make a challenge” without having to go through the legislature, he said.

The Secretary of State’s office has long said it’s not necessary to have random audits after elections – partly because several recounts of close results are routinely requested – but that is changing. Under a new law, two of the state’s more than 300 polling places will be audited after the upcoming party primary elections and four will be double-checked after the November general election.

Tuesday’s gathering of he Special Committee of Voter Confidence, which lasted some four hours in the main hall of the Records and Archives building on Ratification Way, was the fifth “listening session” held by the eight-person group. The committee was created this year by Secretary of State David Scanlan in response to Republican attacks on the credibility of votes here and around the country. It has six more public sessions scheduled and is slated to give suggestions to state lawmakers this year.

Tuesday’s session included a lengthy demonstration of the AccuVote machines that have been used to count ballots in New Hampshire for more than two decades, part of Scanlan’s argument that more transparency about the process of holding elections will boost confidence and undermine conspiracy theories.

The AccuVote machines are no longer manufactured and are outdated – they run on Windows XP, an operating system that hasn’t been supported by Microsoft since 2014 – and LHS will not guarantee that there will be enough spare parts and expertise to keep them working through the 2024 election. New Hampshire is looking into buying replacements although no schedule or budget has been approved.

Perhaps the most striking testimony at Tuesday’s hearing came from Ken Hajjar, who before retirement spent decades installing and maintaining the AccuVote machines in the state. He argued that questions about their security were a ruse designed to help people manipulate election results and described it as a made-up controversy that was “a tumor growing on the body politic.”

“They know the machine works. It is all baloney,” Hajjar said. “The machine helps keep the process honest. … That’s why they want to get rid of them.”

More than a dozen towns had petitioned warrant articles at town meetings seeking to do away with ballot-counting machines, all of which were voted down. Some GOP state representatives put forward a bill to mandate that all state elections be hand-counted but it was killed in committee.

Hajjar also raised concern about what is known as “independent state legislature doctrine” that would give state legislators, rather than local election officials in towns and cities, control over federal elections. This theory is slated to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall and there is an increasing belief that the conservative court majority might support it.


David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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