Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Join as a sustainer and support independent local news for your community.
0000017a-15d9-d736-a57f-17ff90ca0000Click each race below for NHPR's coverage:Governor's Race | State Senate RacesCongressional District 1 | Congressional District 2All Election CoverageClick here for our voter's guide and a map of N.H. polling places. Click here for a version in Spanish.Click here for real-time results after the polls close.

Crowdfunding Campaign Helps Bethlehem Debut New Ballot-Counting Machines

Bethlehem Reimagined on Facebook
A centerpiece of the fundraising campaign for the new machines was an event called "Ballots and Beer," hosted at the historic local Colonial Theatre earlier this year.

In about half of New Hampshire polling places, votes are still tallied up by hand. And that was the case in Bethlehem until Tuesday night — when a new ballot counting device made its debut, thanks to a community fundraising campaign.

A group called Bethlehem Reimagined led the push for the new machines. Paul Greenlaw, the group’s president, said the idea stemmed in part from his own experience as a first-time ballot counter during March's town elections.

"I left at 2:15 in the morning, and they finished up around 4,” Greenlaw said. “We just thought, in this day and age, there's a better way."

New Hampshire communities have the option to use ballot counting devices, as opposed to manually counting their election results, but they can only use a model that’s been approved by the state's ballot law commission and must find a way to pay for the machines on their own. The state does not provide funding for the equipment. 

Representatives from Bethlehem Reimagined made their first formal pitch asking the town’s select board for permission to fundraise for the new machines in April, citing “difficulties with counting” in recent elections. 

At that meeting, some raised questions about the machines’ accuracy and security, while others questioned whether shifting away from hand counting would mean shifting away from an electoral tradition that brought community members together.

But by the end of the meeting, the select board gave Bethlehem Reimagined the greenlight to move forward.

A centerpiece of the campaign was a fundraiser called "Ballots and Beer,” hosted at the historic local Colonial Theatre in July. The event — which featured local brews and appetizers donated by nearby restaurants — raised $4,200.

In September, the group donated $4,000 to the town cover the cost of an Accuvote ballot counter and other supplies. According to meetings from the select board meeting where the town accepted that donation, Bethlehem Reimagined held onto the leftover $200 and planned to “add to it in case there are additional expenses in the future.”

While it used to take several dozen pollworkers working late into the night to add up all the votes, far fewer volunteers were needed on Tuesday — and results were ready by 10 p.m. Town Clerk Mary Jackson said she was thankful to everyone who pulled together to make sure the new process ran smoothly.

“We miss our hand counters, but we understand that we’ve moved away from that now,” Jackson said.

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.