State ballot panel endorses two new voting machines

Sep. 18—CONCORD — For the first time in more than 30 years, state election regulators have OK'd new voting machines, which city and town officials will be able to deploy for municipal races starting in March.

Two vendors received conditional approval from the Ballot Law Commission on Friday.

One was Dominion Voting Systems, manufacturer of the next generation of Accuvote machines, which New Hampshire has used since the early 1990s.

The other was VotingWorks, a not-for-profit company whose machines use "open-source software," which permits the public to see the programming codes for the machines in real time.

For local election officials, the approval was a long time coming and averts what many saw as a looming crisis.

LHS Associates of Salem has been selling and servicing the AccuVote machine since 1992.

In a July 2020 memo to local and state officials, LHS said the company would provide service and parts "as long as we possibly can."

The last new AccuVote machine came off the assembly line in 2008, and for years LHS had been providing parts to cities and towns by cannibalizing old machines no longer in use.

Secretary of State David Scanlan said this is an important milestone.

"The cities and towns now have two good options from which to choose, after a long but very thorough review of the various ballot counting devices that are available on the market," Scanlan said.

Machines cost $6K-$7K

LHS will be servicing the next generation of Dominion machines.

Ballot Law Commission Chairman Brad Cook said the two winning vendors still must meet certain conditions, including independent testing and adherence to standards set by the commission and federal election authorities for security and other factors.

"Both devices have been tested in actual New Hampshire elections and had supporters among the clerks and moderators," Cook said. "They both have proven to be accurate and secure."

The machines will cost $6,000 to $7,000.

Like the current Accuvote machines, the new machines will not be connected to the internet.

The new technology uses an optical scanner that records digital images of each ballot and stores them on a memory card. Those images will be used as backups, with the paper ballot remaining the original source for verifying each vote.

The vendors displayed their machines in an all-day demonstration before elected officials and the public at the Legislative Office Building on Aug. 1.

At its Aug. 31 meeting, the BLC rejected Election Systems & Software, a third company that displayed its product.

The BLC allowed all three machines to be tested in a small number of selected towns and city wards' local elections last spring and summer.

Many clerks had urged the commission to choose only one vendor to avoid debates in towns.

But the BLC concluded endorsing two would be better, Cook said. "The commission decided on two devices, so there would be a choice, and the marketplace can decide." The existing AccuVote machines will remain in use and will process all ballots in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

Even after March 1, cities and towns can use the old machines until the point at which the BLC "decertifies" the vendor.

"We've always envisioned a pretty extensive transition period to give cities and towns enough time to acquire new machines," Scanlan said during a recent interview.

A bipartisan bill (SB 70) failed in the Legislature that would have allowed cities and towns to apply for some of $12 million in unused federal Help America Vote Act grant money to buy these machines.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman James Gray, R-Rochester, said voters in local communities should decide for themselves whether to use their own tax dollars to get replacement machines.

Some election critics have argued that ballots should only be counted by hand. They turned out at last month's demonstration to protest Dominion because it was the dominant voting machine company during the 2020 election and uses proprietary software that is not visible to the public.

In its report last December, the state's Special Committee on Voter Confidence said the state "preferably" should use voting machines with open-source software.