Valley News – Upper Valley election officials say a count like in Windham, New Hampshire is unlikely to happen here
WEST LEBANON – Election officials in the Upper Valley say regular and rigorous testing of vote counting machines combined with other checks on polling day tally should prevent irregularities like those seen last year in the community of Windham, in southern New Hampshire, where misfolded ballots skewed the results of a legislative race.
A recent audit of this community’s 2020 election results found that the folding machines used to mail out ballots were causing a fold in the name of a Democrat running for New Hampshire House.
When those ballots were then fed into counting machines, many were not counted or a vote was wrongly assigned to the Democrat, although in the Republican-leaning town of Windham this has not changed. election results.
Despite this, the gap between election night numbers and the manual recount caught national attention from Republicans and former President Donald Trump, who hoped a closer look would reveal evidence of fraud. widespread electoral campaign in the election that Trump lost. The audit revealed a much simpler explanation.
“Election officials in a hurry borrowed a folder to send out thousands of postal ballots faster, and the votes on about 400 ballots were miscounted as a result,” the auditors wrote in their final report, which was released. earlier this week.
It is a scenario that the clerk of the city of Lebanon, Kristen Kenniston, is familiar with. As election officials prepared for the city’s general election in 2016, the folded test ballots sent via Lebanese machines encountered similar problems, resulting in a manual count of around 900 mail-in ballots this year – the.
“We stumbled upon it by accident and said, ‘Well that’s interesting,’” Kenniston said Thursday. “Now every election we test with a few folds for this event.”
Kenniston said it was thanks to a state law requiring municipalities to test their voting machines, which in most cities are AccuVote optical scanners, combined with the watchful eye of election officials, that the folding error has been detected.
But, she said, Lebanon is now folding up “the devil” with its ballots to make sure things are in order.
Hanover City Clerk Betsy McClain said the city also folds test ballots and makes a variety of marks to ensure its machines are able to produce an accurate vote.
“But with any system there are weaknesses that can be improved upon,” she said. “And let’s focus on improving those weaknesses.”
For McClain, what happened in Windham was a glaring example of New Hampshire’s outdated voting technology.
The AccuVote optical reader was developed in the 1980s, using older technology that was phased out in the 2000s. It is no longer manufactured, which means New Hampshire employees often have to rely on older parts. or refurbished to repair aging machines.
And while some have praised AccuVote’s or general-purpose operating system’s lack of internet capacity for its difficulty in hacking, McClain said, there are better machines on the market with similar security protocols that still are. able to read a ballot paper with folds of folds.
“For me, the points that need to be connected are that we all make excuses for these machines,” she said. “I was not surprised that there are problems with our decades old machines. “
Newport City Clerk Liselle Dufort also said New Hampshire needs improved technology. However, she added, it is clear that election officials had good intentions.
Due to the expansion of postal voting amid the coronavirus pandemic, clerks statewide were trying to process a record number of mailed and deposited ballots, often with fewer volunteers, he said. she declared.
“The general consensus is that it could happen to any of us at any time,” said Dufort, who sits on the board of directors of the New Hampshire City and Town Clerks’ Association.
She added that small towns, like Newport, typically hand-fold mail-in ballots, which originate in the state with pre-marked fold lines.
In their report, Windham listeners noted that recounts of nine other New Hampshire House races in 2020 did not find similar discrepancies.
“So it appears that the impact of the statewide downturns in 2020 was marginal,” they said, adding that what happened in Windham was “not the peak of a huge iceberg of misconduct “.
But listeners made several suggestions to New Hampshire officials. These include no longer folding ballots and improving the maintenance of voting machines.
The New Hampshire secretary of state’s office and the attorney general’s office are also expected to issue their own report and recommendations.
Tim Camerato can be contacted at [email protected] or 603-727-3223.