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Three N.H. towns are testing out new ballot counting machines that use open source software

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 will use the new tabulators from VotingWorks, which use open source software, as part of a pilot program the state is testing.

When voters in Ashland, Newington and Woodstock head to the polls on Tuesday, they’ll be participating in a state pilot program that tests out new ballot machines.

Unlike the current model that New Hampshire uses, these machines have software that’s open source, which allows anyone to see how it was programmed to tabulate votes.

New Hampshire’s election officials and Ballot Law Commission say the state picked those three towns because of their relatively small populations as it considers a new machine to replace the state’s aging ballot equipment – and possibly in time for the 2024 elections. The state’s used the current AccuVote model since the mid '90s, and the company that owns AccuVote says it won’t be manufacturing new parts starting in 2024.

Secretary of State Dave Scanlan also noted that the ballot counting error that took place in Windham in 2020 also sparked conversations among lawmakers and the Ballot Law Commission about ways the state can increase election transparency.

“We’ve been forced into thinking about it,” Scanlan said.

The Ballot Law Commission considered about half a dozen ballot counting machine models before picking this open source software machine from VotingWorks, a nonprofit organization.

Ben Adida, the organization's founder, said these machines could be the answer to calls for increased transparency at a time when election integrity is facing immense scrutiny.

“We're in a world where trust in voting systems is at an all time low,” he said. “And we think one of the ways to reestablish that trust is to be maximally transparent, to just show everything that's happening.”

VotingWorks has refined the software and its tabulators since officially launching in 2018.

Open source software is still a relatively new technology in the ballot tabulator industry. Only five counties in Mississippi have already implemented the machines for their elections, and VotingWorks is the only system used in American elections that uses open source software.

For Adida, watching New Hampshire implement the pilot in three towns first could serve as a potential model for other states that are looking to make large-scale changes in their election systems.

“I think one area where states should model New Hampshire is [to] try it on a small scale in a real election,” he said. “Because when technology transitions are all or nothing, when they're these massive cut overs, they are so risky. That slows down the process tremendously. And it means ultimately that we're not deploying better, more secure, simpler voting technology as fast as we could.”

Scanlan said he believes that introducing open source software machines to New Hampshire could address the root cause of voters’ concerns regarding election transparency.

“Where voters question their confidence in elections, it’s usually rooted in those parts of the election process that aren’t readily transparent,” he said. “Voter machines are a clear example of that.”

After the machines count the ballots on Tuesday, election officials will hold a public hand count in Concord the following day that will cross check how accurate the pilot machines are. If the machines prove to have not had any significant errors, the machines will undergo state and federal verification procedures.

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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