Scanlan backs using fed surplus to support replacing aging voting machines

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Apr. 3—CONCORD — Secretary of State David Scanlan said the state has enough surplus in a federal election fund that he supports making grants to help cities and towns replace aging voting machines.

Scanlan urged the Senate Election Laws and Municipal Affairs Committee Tuesday to kill a related House-passed bill (HB 447) that would require he set up a $3 million matching program of grants for communities.

The bill is not necessary and could force the state to accept federal grants even if there are unacceptable strings attached, Scanlan said.

"I would like to make the program as flexible as possible so we can meet the needs for whatever the community thinks are important," Scanlan said.

The statement ends Scanlan's reluctance in the past to support using federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grant money to help communities buy the next generation of ballot counting devices.

It comes at a critical juncture.

The exclusive machine used in New Hampshire, the AccuVote owned by Dominion Voting Systems, was first approved here in 1989 and local officials have scrambled in recent years to locate replacement parts that are no longer being made.

Officials with AccuVote's vendor, LHS Associates of Salem, had told the Ballot Law Commission (BLC) the machines would be sustainable through the 2024 election. Last December LHS President Jeff Silvestro did express concern to the BLC about the availability of replacement parts.

Last September, the BLC approved two replacement voting machines, Dominion's new ImageCast optical scanning machines that LHS would supply and technology from VotingWorks, a not-for-profit company that uses "open-source software," which permits the public to see the programming codes for the machines in real time.

On April 9, an independent company will test whether the Dominion machine meets state certification requirements. VotingWorks passed the test months ago.

For years after the HAVA law passed in 2002, Scanlan said states did not receive additional funds from Congress.

This changed six years ago when New Hampshire got a $3 million grant to upgrade cybersecurity efforts to thwart attempts by bad actors to infiltrate state and local election systems.

Congress gave the state another $3 million to help it run the 2020 election in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

HAVA fund must have $12 million balance

Scanlan said Congress has since committed to approve an additional $2 million over the next two years to New Hampshire and this would bring the fund up to $15 million.

An existing state law requires the fund have at least a $12 million balance.

Th requirement is in place to meet 12 years of annual spending activity such as a centralized voting database, poll worker training, new equipment to make voting more accessible for those with impairments and education efforts.

"I have also said in the past that when we achieve a surplus in the account, we would use the money for one-time programs that would assist elections at the local level," Scanlan said.

Officials with Open Democracy Now and the New Hampshire Campaign for Voting Rights testified for the bill Rep. Laura Telerski, D-Nashua, authored that passed the House in January, 311-62.

The bill would require cities and towns pay at least 50% of the cost for the new technology.

"Towns needed to have some skin in the game," Telerski said.

Scanlan said he wants a program for each community's needs that could include reimbursing towns that use paper ballots for the purchase of E-polling books that allow officials to update in real time their list of registered voters.

Scanlan said the program would likely offer a "fixed amount" of support towards each town's voting machines, E-polling books or tablets that make voting more accessible for those who need accommodations at the polls.

Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy asked why it took Scanlan this long to give his support.

Scanlan said many programs in his office had been "in flux," including the new voting machine process, the expected completion later this month of a centralized voter database and plans that assume the Legislature will earmark funds to create an online information portal that voters can use to request absentee ballots or make other changes to their information.

Philosophically, Senate Chairman James Gray, R-Rochester, said he questions using what are state" dollars to support a local election expense.

"I see this bill as a shift in funding from the community to the state," Gray added.