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'No evidence': Hampton selectmen reject petitions that cast doubt on voting machines

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Wed, 19 Jan 2022 01:00:00

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HAMPTON — The majority of selectmen are calling on voters to reject two petition warrant articles at the March 8 Town Meeting that seek to ban the use of vote-counting machines in the town's elections. 

The board voted 4-1 last week, with Selectman Regina Barnes opposed, not to recommend the articles that, if approved, would have the town revert back to hand-counting paper ballots for all local, state and federal elections.

"Why I understand the concerns that have been raised nationally … there is no evidence that any of those things have occurred in Hampton," said Selectman Richard Sawyer, on why he doesn't support the petitions.  

The effort to ban voting machines in cities and towns is a state-wide effort being promoted by political groups such as the Marigold Coffee Club as part of its “Remove the Machines” campaign and members of the NH Voter Integrity Group, who are behind a statewide effort to convince legislators to order a full forensic audit of the 2020 election. 

State-wide effort: Greenland residents reject bid to eliminate vote-counting machines. It wasn't close.

It has been fueled by former President Donald Trump's unproven claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, which were rejected in court.

Proponents have said the goal is to restore "integrity in future elections," while opponents say it's nothing but a ruse to undermine voter confidence in the election system by solving a problem that doesn't exist. 

'It has nothing to do with national politics' 

Selectman Regina Barnes is a member of the group that is behind the two Hampton petitions. She and others spent much of the fall collecting signatures in downtown Hampton, holding up signs like "Sign Here for Election Integrity" or "Truth has no Agenda."

"It has nothing to do with national politics," said Barnes.  "This is what people in the state want... We have hundreds of people sign this petition which is more signers than I have seen on any petition in this town. And the majority of those people who signed it, said they would come and volunteer at the polls for free on every election day to ensure this happens."

Previous story: Hampton selectman joins effort to remove NH voting machines

'If it's not broken, why fix it?' 

The majority of selectmen said they don't see why the town would make a change that could potentially cost money and add hours to the election process when there is no evidence the counting machines are not doing their job. 

"I haven't heard from the town moderator that we should change," said Selectmen James Waddell. "I haven't heard the town clerk say we should change... there has been no evidence that we had a problem. So, if it’s not broken, why fix it?" 

Hampton, as well as the more than half of cities and towns in the state that have voting machines, use AccuVote-OS PC (Optical Scan Precinct Count) machines.  

David Scanlan, New Hampshire's acting secretary of state, said in the more than 30 years the machines have been in use in the state, there have been no major issues with their reliability. When issues have arisen of large discrepancies, he said it was due to "human error."

Hampton Town Moderator Bob Casassa said in his 17 years overseeing town elections, they have had no issues with the machines in Hampton and "that they accurately count completed ballots."  

He noted there is already a mechanism in place to challenge the results of the machines if there is a question on results and that is to request a recount, which by state law is done by hand count. 

'I trust citizens, more than I do any machine' 

Barnes said she doesn't have concerns with the town clerk, poll workers or town moderator. 

"I trust citizens, more than I do any machine," said Barnes, who claimed without providing evidence that the voting machines are susceptible to hacks.

Barnes asked her fellow board members "how do we know there is no evidence" of fraud when the state has never conducted a full audit to see if the paper ballots match the machine votes.

Others who signed the petition have expressed concerns that cities and towns put their faith in an outside third party, LHS Associates of Salem, to program the memory cards for each machine for each election (including contests, candidates, voting rules and vote target locations). 

Town Manager Jamie Sullivan told selectmen the machines owned by the town are tested and publicly audited, a week prior to each election by the town moderator and town clerk to ensure accuracy.  

The testing, he said, is done in public even though "rarely anyone attends." 

Voters will have final say at March 8 Town Meeting 

Selectman Chuck Rage said he has attended several recounts in Hampton- which are conducted by hand count.

"I have never seen really much of a difference" (between the hand count and what the machines had)," Rage said. "I don't think it's something we need right now." 

Sawyer said he believes reverting back to hand-counting would create a greater opportunity for fraud. He likened it to when the town switched from having employees collect money at the town parking lots at Hampton Beach to machines.

"The more people you have handling the money, the more opportunity there is for theft to occur," Sawyer said. "Well, I think this is the same logic, the more people handling the ballots, the greater chance there is of something fraudulent to happen. I believe their intent is to ensure the accuracy of the election, and I applaud that, I just don't think this is the path and I can't support it."

Selectmen Chairman Rusty Bridle said he was concerned with the potential costs involved. 

Casassa previously said if Hampton was to revert to hand counting, it would make for a "significant task" as well as a need for additional staffing, security and possibly a new voting location.

The town manager told selectmen the question is on the Town Meeting warrant twice (Article 39 and Article 40) because it was handed in twice with slightly different wording. 

Both articles state "all voting shall be by paper ballot and all ballots shall be hand-counted only, rather than use by optical scanning or any other types of programmable electronic counting devices.”

Article 39 has additional language noting that "ballot counting machines were adopted on a trial basis, so we wish to return to manual hand counting by citizens." 

Town counsel, Sullivan said, recommended they both go on the warrant even though Barnes said it was a "combined effort" and could just appear once. 

Another petition seeks to reduce polling hours 

There was another petition warrant article put forward regarding town elections. 

Article 41 asks voters to change the closing time at the polls in Hampton from 8 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Selectmen voted 4-1, with Barnes in opposition, not to recommend the article. Board members noted the reason the polls are open later is because a number of residents commute to work in Massachusetts. 

Barnes supported the change noting the polls in nearby communities close at 7 p.m. 

"I want to see more people casting votes," Sawyer said on why he voted against the petition. "This is going reduce the number of votes cast." 

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