Not all debates have clearly drawn lines. In the matter of assuring an accurate vote count in citizen elections, the end goal is unequivocal. But the views of how this is achieved can — and in this region and in the state do — vary. Despite hopes to the contrary of 60 petitioners calling for mandatory but limited hand-count audits of votes in Keene immediately following elections, neither the city nor the Secretary of State’s Office can authorize such a thing, according to officials with the office. Only the state Legislature can, officials say — and it has failed to do so at least twice. The Keene City Council in September accepted a petition put forward by Gerhard F. Bedding, Cheshire County Commissioner Charles F. “Chuck” Weed, D-Keene, and others as informational, a move that requires no action.
The Keene effort is not the only push to get some form of hand counting into area towns that rely on vote-counting machines, which roughly 60 percent of municipalities in New Hampshire use. Jaffrey resident Deborah Sumner has introduced several initiatives to encourage officials to verify their machine results and to find and make voters aware of common errors in the automated process in that town. In Swanzey, Kenneth and Janice Sevene have sought to have ballots publicly counted by hand, not machines.
Bedding accuses the Secretary of State’s Office of sending mixed messages on the issue of audits; the Secretary of State’s Office disagrees. It says its message is clear: Towns and cities are not authorized to perform such audits.
“There is no such thing as an audit in state law,” said Secretary of State William Gardner, explaining that the relationship between a municipality and the state is different than that between the state and federal government. “The states created the federal government; we have one vote, other places have one vote,” Gardner said. “But the towns did not create the state; the people created the state. So towns as entities do not have independent authority. They can only do what state law has granted them specifically to do. And if state law is silent, they can’t do it.”