Rochester latest NH community to see effort to remove vote-counting machines

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ROCHESTER — City officials received a petition to place a warrant article intended to eliminate the use of vote-counting machines in elections and to return to hand counts. However, City Manager Blaine Cox said the petition has no basis in law for the city.

Cox said this is because Rochester does not use the town meeting form of government. It appears the proposal submitted in Rochester is similar to those submitted in some towns around the state, including Greenland, where the town's voters overwhelmingly rejected the bid to eliminate voting machines.

"The request to insert by petition a warrant article does not pertain to Rochester’s city form of government," Cox said.

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Voters at Rochester's Ward 5 wait their turn to be checked in at the community center in order to vote on Election Day.
Voters at Rochester's Ward 5 wait their turn to be checked in at the community center in order to vote on Election Day.

However, state Sen. Jim Gray, R-Rochester, who is also a city councilor, said there is a way the question could be brought forward. He said Mayor Paul Callaghan could place the question on a city council agenda for a vote.

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Callaghan did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his views on vote-counting machines.

"Current law allows a community to decide whether or not to use the voting machines," Gray said. "There are requests to use a durable paper ballot and that would restrict the machines. There are also enough people out there who want some type of audit done for the machines."

Gray leads state legislation seeking to audit AccuVote machines

Gray, in his role the state Senate, is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 366. If passed and signed into law, it would require an audit of the AccuVote machines used in New Hampshire elections. The bill specifies 1-3% of machines statewide would be randomly selected and audited.

"If we did that and it turned out to be accurate, it would go a long way to reassuring voters," Gray said. "I am not implying they are not accurate, just responding to a need to be sure, for simple reasons. Why do you balance your checkbook? To be sure there are no errors. Why do you stop at a stop sign? In case someone else does not. If you don't look, you do not find out if there are errors."

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Doubt in election results has been fueled by former President Donald Trump, who maintains without evidence a claim there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, including in New Hampshire, and spread conspiracy theories that voting machines are susceptible to hacks. These claims came despite dozens of losses in courts across the country in which Trump attempted to overturn President Joe Biden's victory.

David Scanlan, N.H. deputy secretary of state, said in three decades the state has been using the AccuVote machines, their experience is that they have been reliable.
David Scanlan, N.H. deputy secretary of state, said in three decades the state has been using the AccuVote machines, their experience is that they have been reliable.

Acting New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan has said in the more than 30 years the machines have been in use, there have been no major issues with their reliability, calling them "strong workhorses." And if there is ever a question, he added, that is why the state requires paper ballots. Under state law, the ballots are hand-counted when there is a recount.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has said in response to recent petitions seeking to eliminate vote-counting machines that elections in New Hampshire in 2020 were "safe, secure, and reliable."

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Cox said Rochester has a population of 32,492. According to the Deputy City Clerk Cassie Givera, there are 18,150 registered voters, so approving this move would mean thousands of ballots that would need to be counted by hand.

New Hampshire state Sen. Jim Gray, R-Rochester, is also a city councilor.
New Hampshire state Sen. Jim Gray, R-Rochester, is also a city councilor.

"Asking 15-20 ballot clerks to stay after an election to count all those votes would be challenging," Gray said. "I think the AccuVote machines are accurate and fair. I also think having an audit might put some of that concern to rest."

Gray served Rochester as a moderator, before and since voting machines were used. He has participated in recounts, at his local level and at the state level.

"I don't believe voter fraud is happening in New Hampshire," Gray said. "I think there could be accuracy issues if we are asking people to count thousands of ballots long into the night."

Who is behind the Rochester petition?

One person who signed the petition seeking to remove voting machines in Rochester was Bethany Duntley, who did not win her bid for election to the City Council in November 2021.

"I honestly believe hand counting is better than using the computer system that we use now," she said. "There are so many ways computers can be hacked or adjusted when it comes to computer input. Over the years technology has advanced and so have criminals. Do we really think that elections can't be hijacked by other countries or even public officials? There needs to be checks and balances just like in every business. I hope we can do all elections by using hand counts along with supervision."

Scanlan, New Hampshire's acting secretary of state, has said the AccuVote machines are completely disconnected from the internet. In 2010, the state required all modems in the machines to be disconnected and all ports permanently disabled and sealed.

"The only cord that comes out of it, that is of any use, is the power cord," Scanlan said.

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Reporting by Patrick Cronin is included in this article.

This article originally appeared on Fosters Daily Democrat: Rochester NH community petitions to eliminate vote-counting machines