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NH Ballot Law Commission moves forward with assessing new counting machines

Ballot Law Commission
Jeongyoon Han / NHPR
Jeongyoon Han / NHPR
James Rundlett of Clear Ballot Group ran a demonstration of the company’s ballot machines to the Ballot Law Commission on Wednesday.

New Hampshire’s Ballot Law Commission is continuing to test out different ballot counting machines as it seeks to replace the state’s aging ones.

The commission, which sets the criteria and has the final say for certifying ballot counting machines in the state, met on Wednesday to assess several companies’ ballot counting machines. Here’s what happened.

The Commission is considering ballot machines made by Clear Ballot Group.

The commission met with representatives from a company called Clear Ballot Group, which wants to have their ballot counting machines approved so that towns in New Hampshire could use them for elections. The state uses those machines when conducting its routine election audits.

James Rundlett, national sales manager at the company, showed the commission how the ballot machine works.

“We believe this is the future of elections,” Rundlett said.

Clear Ballot Group’s ballot devices are being used in various parts of the country, including in parts of the Pacific Northwest, Kansas, Seattle, and Ohio.

While Rundlett highlighted that the machine can quickly identify and categorize write-in votes digitally, he emphasized that it doesn’t divert any write-in votes into a separate box – which Commission Chair Brad Cook said goes against one of the listed criteria for ballot machines.

He said more research is needed to see if the Clear Ballot machines comply with the state’s ballot machine standards.

It also remains unclear whether the Clear Ballot machines also have the capacity to separate overvote ballots into a separate pile, which is mandated by a recentlaw passed in June of 2022 for overvotes to be counted by hand.

Following the presentation, the Commission voted to allow any municipality that’s interested to pilot the Clear Ballot machines in future elections.

For town meeting, Winchester will pilot machines made by Election Systems And Software.

In a unanimous vote, the committee approved the town of Winchester’s request to try out ballot counting machines made by Election Systems & Software in spring town elections.

Town clerk Jim Tetreault said the machines were a clear candidate.

“One of the criteria was something that was not demonstrably different from what we currently have, so that voters wouldn’t notice much of a difference,” he said.

The town has been allocating money for the past several years to fund the purchase of whichever machine will replace their current AccuVote machines.

Ballot counting machines used in a pilot program in three New Hampshire towns for the 2022 midterm elections will be revamped, company founder says.

VotingWorks, one of several companies in the running to replace New Hampshire’s AccuVote ballot devices, had their devices used in a pilot program during the midterms in Newington, Ashland and Woodstock.

While a recent audit from the Secretary of State’s office from Tuesday found that the company's machines counted votes accurately during the 2022 general election, Secretary of State Dave Scanlan noted there were some hardware issues with the machines. Those included a machine jam at one of the ballot places, and in Newington, ink streaks left on the VotingWorks machine scanner forced the town to switch back to the AccuVote machine to process ballots for the rest of the day.

Scanlan said that doesn’t fully rule VotingWorks out of the running, but the company would need to make some upgrades if they are going to be used again.

Of potential upgrades, Cook said he’d like to see a different model for the machine’s ballot container: currently, it is a canvas bag which, in his view, doesn’t “instill confidence” in voters.

VotingWorks said it would revamp their equipment so that they can be better suited for New Hampshire election processes.

“We’re going to be able to make a system that responds to the specific needs of New Hampshire,” said VotingWorks founder Ben Adida, who appeared before the Commission on Wednesday.

Adida said they'll be changing the ballot containers and machine design. He said they’re particularly focused on making their ballot scanners even faster for New Hampshire voters, since ballots in the state typically have several pages to them.

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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