With concerns being raised across the country about the possibility that hackers could interfere with electronic voting machines, it’s timely to note that in a world of smart devices, New Hampshire’s ballot-counting machines are deliberately dumb. Say what you will about rigged elections and the chance of election officials missing cases of voter fraud: When it comes to the mechanical end of the state’s voting system, it’s a tight process. Security cameras, thermostats and even some automobiles might interact online these days, but not the hundreds of ballot-counting machines stored in town halls across New Hampshire. “They cut the pins off, so you can’t put the modems back in, even if you wanted to,” said Ben Bynum, town clerk in Canterbury, as he showed the town’s single AccuVote machine, locked away in a vault until pre-election testing begins. The only way to change these machines is to insert a memory card programmed by LHS Associates in Salem, and you can’t do that unless you first cut off a metal tamper-proof seal. And if you don’t record the proper identification numbers in the proper place in the proper book with a the signature of a witness, that will raise suspicions from people like Bynum and Deputy Town Clerk Lisa Carlson.
“The secretary of state’s office comes and checks these, makes sure we’re doing them properly,” said Bynum regarding the book, which is called, with bureaucratic solemnity, the Election Ballot Counting Device Activity Log. Similarly, there’s no way to get voting results out of that machine to the waiting world unless a human reads the numbers and names from a paper tape it generates – much to the annoyance, it must be said, of newspapers facing election night deadlines.
All of this is a deliberate decision made some 20 years ago when New Hampshire chose AccuVote ballot-reader machines as its official technology for high-speed ballot counting. At the time, many places were considering all-electronic voting machines, but the desire to keep ballots as a hard-copy backup led Secretary of State Bill Gardner and New Hampshire lawmakers to go with machines that optically “read” marks people make on paper.
That’s fine with Bynum. “I like that we still have ballots to check results,” he said. In fact, state law requires all recounts of contested races to be done by hand, using those paper ballots.