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Greenland voters overwhelmingly say they have faith in vote tallying machines

A photo of a masked voter in a red jacket inserts a paper ballot into a black machine.
Todd Bookman
/
NHPR
A voter inserts a ballot into an AccuVote machine during Saturday's special town meeting in Greenland.

Every election day, whether at town meeting in March or a presidential vote in November, Greenland residents drop their completed ballots into a machine called the AccuVote. It’s a squat black box, about the size of a tool cabinet.

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“It’s just plugged into the wall like your toaster,” said Marge Morgan, Greenland’s longtime town clerk, inside Greenland’s Central School.

The AccuVotes are used by towns and cities around the state – but lately, they’ve become a point of controversy in Greenland.

They’re the only approved brand of tallying device in New Hampshire. Built mostly in the 1990s, these counters don’t connect to the internet, and don’t have wifi or Bluetooth capabilities.

Morgan said they’ve been reliable and accurate.

“We’ve never had an issue,” she said. “If we had an issue here, I could understand why there was such a controversy, but I’ve been a clerk for 15 years and we haven’t had an issue.”

The controversy Morgan refers to was last weekend’s town vote on a single, simple question: Should the town ban the use of the AccuVote in favor of a hand count?

The measure failed by a wide margin, but the ballot initiative in Greenland, fueled in part by conspiracy theories and misinformation stemming from the 2020 presidential election, is likely to pop up in other communities in the months to come.

Citizens in Kensington and Hampton are drumming up support for a similar ballot initiative, part of an organized effort, and next year, a Republican sponsored bill in the Legislature would enact a statewide ban on these counting machines.

photo of man holding up 'vote yes' sign
Todd Bookman/NHPR
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Outside of the polling place, a supporter of the ballot measure greets voters.

While there’s no evidence linking AccuVote machines to election fraud, supporters of ending their use voice a general skepticism about how votes are counted.

“I don’t trust the machines,” said Mike Fessenden, one of the Greenland residents who came to vote on the initiative Saturday. He said he believes a hand count would be more accurate.

Fessenden was with Donna Dewsnap, who also voted in favor of the machine-counting ban.

Asked if she accepted the results of the 2020 presidential election, Dewsnap said, “Well, do we really have a choice? Do I think that there is fraud in it, yeah. To some degree.”

There’s been no widespread fraud found in election results, neither nationally nor locally. New Hampshire’s AccuVote machines are programmed each election by a company in Salem called LHS Associates. Opponents of their use say, contrary to the available evidence, that there’s the potential for the programming to be wrong, or somehow tinkered with.

And they point to an unrelated problem in Windham in 2020 in which the machines didn’t malfunction, but absentee ballots were folded incorrectly, leading to incorrect totals. An audit confirmed the machines weren’t hacked, and they weren’t tampered with.

In recount after recount, not just in Greenland but statewide, the AccuVote machines have proven themselves as accurate.

“We’ve been doing this for years, it works, and we don’t need the additional expense of having a crew in there counting votes,” said Tricia Keene, a Greenland resident who voted against the anti-machine ballot measure. “It’s crazy. Crazy. Just give it a rest.”

After more than two decades in operation, the AccuVote machines are showing their age. Brad Cook, chair of the New Hampshire Ballot Law Commission, which regulates these machines, said it’s sometimes hard to get parts to fix the AccuVote. But he rejected the argument that the devices can’t be trusted.

“Do minor errors happen every once in a while? Are the people that run the system human? Yes,” Cook said. “But is there some big conspiracy going on? Absolutely not.”

Cook said the commission recently granted the town of Milford permission to use a new model of counting device in next March’s town meeting, as a pilot.

And towns can still make their own decisions about how to count ballots. According to Cook, there are approximately 50 smaller towns in New Hampshire that don’t use machines.

This weekend, Greenland rejected the ballot initiative on a 1,077 to 120 vote, choosing to keep using the AccuVote. Outside of the polls, voter Neil Martin said as influenced as some people were by lies about a stolen election in 2020, Martin thinks as many – if not more – are ready to defend their local election workers.

“Some people find it incredible that this is where we are at,” Martin said. “But by the same token, I think those same people are highly motivated to do something about it, and to make sure it doesn’t go any further to stop it in its tracks.”