Two Election Legislation Issues To Watch In 2019: Redistricting And Voting Technology

Mar 14, 2019

Polling machine in Bedford.

There are nearly 60 election-related bills in the New Hampshire legislature this session, many of which reflect national conversations around election issues.  The Exchange discussed redistricting and voting technology with Casey McDermott, NHPR's reporter covering politics and policy, and Jessica Huseman, election reporter from Politico.  

New Hampshire Bill Would Remove Special Interests From Determining District Lines:

One major aim of House Bill 706, sponsored by Representative Marjorie Smith, a Democrat from Durham, is to establish an independent redistricting commission. The bill bars people with special interests from serving on the commission, such as former political candidates, lobbyists, and employees of major political campaigns. 

This reflects a national trend, according to Jessica Huseman, who said that the U.S. Supreme Court has previously declined to take up gerrymandering issues abecause it has been considered a political issue to be resolved by a state. "It's been done this way for a long time," Huseman said.

But this year, the Supreme Court is considering two rulings in North Carolina and Maryland that found congressional maps violated the rights of voters. 

At the same time, many states are attempting to tackle redistricting through their state legislatures, including New Hampshire.

"It's not clear whether this gets resolved through individual acts of state legislation or at the Supreme Court level," Huseman said. "And I guess we'll find out this year."

Casey McDermott spoke with Representative Smith, who said she met with Governor Sununu's staff about House Bill 706. "The governor's office is noncommittal right now," McDermott said. "Basically, the governor has said previously that he believes the current system works." 

New Hampshire's Voting Machines Are Outdated, No Longer Being Made:

The only machine approved for cites and towns in New Hampshire for counting ballots, the AccuVote, is no longer on the market.  For municipalities to buy new machines, they would first need approval by the state Ballot Law Commission. 

House Bill 345 originally proposed that the Ballot Law Commission would have to approve new machines every five years. The bill was later amended to require the commission to re-evaluate machines every five years to determine if they need upgrading.

"So [the amendment] is a little bit less definitive," McDermott said. According to town and city clerks McDermott spoke with, machine issues are significant across the state, especially in large cities.

"I had the Manchester City Clerk tell me that they experienced breakdowns pretty much every election, or at least slowdowns, in the machines' ability to process the ballots," she said.

McDermott also noted that the burden of repairing or replacing machines often falls on the local government.