Vote-counting machine foes hoped for a surge of success in New Hampshire. They got barely a ripple

HOPKINTON, N.H. (AP) — Like the old saying about March itself, an orchestrated effort to get rid of vote−counting machines in New Hampshire this month came in like a lion and went out like a lamb.

“Electronic machines will face the wrath of New Hampshire voters in March!” Mike Lindell, the MyPillow founder and ally of former President Donald Trump, crowed in a January fundraising pitch.

Not quite. After initially targeting 55 towns, Lindell’s supporters gathered enough petitions to bring the topic up at 23 of the annual town meetings held this month to adopt budgets and settle other matters. Only Danville — population 4,500 — voted in favor of hand−counting ballots, and only for presidential elections in a decision that both the town’s attorney and the secretary of state say is unlikely to stand.

“There was a lot of misinformation that was being spread,” Secretary of State David Scanlan said Thursday. “I think the general public saw through it, and the votes at those town meetings reflect that.”

The push for hand−counting ballots has been gaining popularity across rural America in response to unfounded claims of widespread fraud tied to ballot−counting machines following the 2020 election. There is no evidence that machines were tampered with, and such claims have been repeatedly rejected by election experts, prosecutors and judges.

In New Hampshire, sinister flyers sent to some households described vote−counting machines as “flawed and hackable” and warned of manipulation. Most town officials disagreed, saying there was no evidence of any problems and that returning to hand counts would have been labor intensive and costly.

In Hopkinton, Selectboard Chair Sabrina Dunlap referenced the “baseless claims” made by outside groups in arguing against the hand−counting measure that was defeated Thursday night.

“The ballot machines are tested before every election, and this process is open to the public, as is the ballot−counting process,” she said. “The town has been using these machines for many, many years and our election officials confirm they are secure and accurate.”

Danville Selectman Shawn O’Neil, who championed the issue in his town, said he has faith in local election workers but has broad concerns about vote−counting machines. He limited the question to the presidential race because it’s the nation’s top office.

“It sets the direction for the free world,” O’Neil said, adding that “if sinister people are going to be corrupt, they’re not going to do it for the Rockingham Register of Deeds office.”

The problem? Two months before the vote, Danville’s town attorney, Matt Serge, had advised O’Neil and the other selectmen that the vote likely wouldn’t stand. He said that is because under state law, “the town cannot pick and choose which votes are machine−counted and which are counted by hand.” Scanlan this week agreed, and said he is consulting with the state attorney general’s office on the matter.

“It’s an all−or−nothing situation,” Scanlan said. “Frankly, I think that it would be a bad precedent to start allowing individual races to be targeted for hand−counting versus machine−counting.”

Undeterred, O’Neil said he believes the state law is ambiguous and the town’s vote was valid. He plans to take legal action to enforce the will of Danville voters, he said, and he and his supporters will pick up the tab.

While hand counts have been largely limited to smaller towns, particularly in the Northeast, a few counties elsewhere have ditched machines in recent years. But hand−counting ballots in large, urban counties would take weeks. Experts say that studies have shown that machines are not only faster but more accurate than hand counts. Many election officials do rely on some measure of hand−counting, however, as part of their post−election process to verify that the machines worked correctly.

It’s not the first time the issue has surfaced in New Hampshire. Two years ago, the Legislature killed a bill that would have mandated hand−counting statewide, and nine towns rejected returning to hand−counting for their communities.

In the latest go−round, many of the towns that debated the issue swiftly rejected it. In Meredith, not a single person spoke in favor of eliminating vote−counting machines.

Nancy Jewell told the crowd of more than 500 that she’d worked on elections for more than 40 years as a precinct warden and poll worker.

“I’d like to say a few things about the old way, counting by hand,” Jewell said. “We needed twice the workforce. First with the day shift, when the polls are open. And then with an entire different night shift to count all the ballots by hand, often not finishing until 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning.”

Richard Tracy said at the meeting that he knew from personal experience that ballot−counting devices were accurate and secure, and that nobody in New Hampshire had presented any credible evidence to support allegations of stolen votes or hackable machines.

In Hopkinton, Laurie Pappas was one of three voters who spoke in favor of getting rid of the machines Thursday night. Mentioning Lindell in her remarks, she compared the current system to “someone screaming bingo and declaring they just won the jackpot, but no one is allowed to see their card.”

“Hand counts equal election transparency,” she said.

Don Vickery, who said he is registered as an undeclared voter “because there’s no option for disgusted,” was one of three voters who spoke against the measure.

“I think our state, and our community, is capable of conducting fair and confident elections,” he said.

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Perry reported from Meredith, New Hampshire.

Nick Perry And Holly Ramer, The Associated Press

Photo: AP