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NH Secretary of State: More work is needed to fix machines used in ballot-counting pilot

Ashland, Newington and Woodstock will use the new tabulators from VotingWorks, which use open source software, as part of a pilot program the state is testing.
Ashland, Newington and Woodstock used the new tabulators from VotingWorks as part of a pilot program during the November midterm elections.

The New Hampshire Secretary of State says the ballot machines the state tested out in this year’s midterm election counted votes accurately but ran into hardware issues, slowing the voting process on Election Day.

Voters in Ashland, Newington and Woodstock cast their ballots in a state pilot program on Nov. 8 using machines manufactured by a company called VotingWorks. The machines use software that’s open source — meaning anyone can see its programming for tabulating votes.

The state is considering new ballot-counting machines to replace its aging AccuVote devices. Starting in 2024, state officials said the manufacturer of those machines will no longer produce parts for that older model.

After reviewing the voting process in the three towns participating in the pilot during the midterms, Scanlan said his office will submit a report to the Ballot Law Commission with their findings.

“Anybody can take a look at the code: The software seemed to perform pretty well — in terms of counting the ballots and giving a good paper report of the results from the machines,” Scanlan said.

But, he added, “the hardware clearly had issues.”

In Newington, election officials reported that when voters used felt-tip markers to fill out their ballots, the ink left streaks on the machine scanner as poll workers fed the ballot into the machine. That prevented the machine from reading the marks on the ballot.

In Woodstock, Scanlan said jammed machines took nearly 10 minutes to fix because the ballot bag where cast ballots were fed into was difficult to open, making the process “somewhat cumbersome.”

Scanlan said if VotingWorks wants their machines to be used in future New Hampshire elections, the company will have to fix these issues.

“The company, VotingWorks, really needs to go back and just rethink the process of their hardware and how to make it more functional for elections,” he said.

Ben Adida, the founder of VotingWorks, said he believes the pilot was successful.

“The count was particularly accurate,” Adida said.

He also said the pilot was helpful in allowing the company to see how the machines worked for New Hampshire voters on Election Day.

Adida said election workers appreciated having full-ballot image scans through the machines, which would be helpful for ballots or examining write-in votes, and that having a large ballot bag to collect processed ballots is important for New Hampshire elections because of how many sheets each voter gets.

“It turns out that the ballot bag capacity really matters in New Hampshire, almost more than in other states,” Adida said.

According to Adida, VotingWorks is planning on addressing the issues to allow for a second test run in March 2023 for town elections.

“This is why we’ve always encouraged states to run a small pilot, where if you encounter issues like that, you can recover really fast because it’s small scale,” he said. “You run pilots to figure out this kind of stuff.”

Scanlan said the state is also considering another device, manufactured by a company called Dominion.

Jeongyoon joins us from a stint at NPR in Washington, where she was a producer at Weekend Edition. She has also worked as an English teacher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, helped produce podcasts for Hong Kong Stories, and worked as a news assistant at WAMC Northeast Public Radio. She's a graduate of Williams College, where she was editor in chief of the college newspaper.

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