By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Seventy-four towns, two school districts, and a fire district held voting across New Hampshire on Tuesday after a March Nor’easter caused them to be rescheduled two weeks ago, with some testing out digital scan vote counting devices which may be used in the state in the future.
Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said things were relatively quiet for a “town meeting” day when reached at about 3:30 p.m.
He said he stopped by voting in Winchester and Milford where both municipalities are testing out potential ballot counting devices which use digital scan data and may become available in the future for voting in the Granite State if the Ballot Law Commission gives them the green light.
A meeting with the state’s Ballot Law Commission to go over the results of testing there and similar testing from a handful of other voting precincts earlier will be held next Wednesday in Concord with a report from the Secretary of State’s office on their accuracy.
Currently, the state only allows hand counting or Accuvote counting devices which Scanlan said use old techniques of the optical scan.
The new machines can digitally scan the data.
About half of all voting precincts in the state use Accuvote instead of hiring vote counters at the end of the voting day and the decision is left to the municipalities on whether to invest in the new hardware or pay for counting teams.
Winchester was testing out products by Dominion – now famous for its defamation lawsuit against Fox News – while Milford was testing equipment provided by the company ES&S.
On March 14, Ashland tried devices provided by Clear Ballot and Londonderry also tried Dominion products.
Last fall, Scanlan said during the 2022 Election some tried another product that had some issues and the company has revised its devices based on input to be again tested in May in Moultonborough.
“We will continue testing next year and hopefully have some solid recommendations,” for municipalities ahead of the 2024 Presidential Election cycle, Scanlan said.
Voting, he said, seemed to be at levels a bit lower than a normal year.
At Gilford, Town Moderator Sandra McGonagle said the voting was going well at about 2:30 p.m. with about 500 so far.
She said the count could be anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 on a typical Town Meeting vote and the town has 6,200 registered voters.
She said a lot of thought went into the decision to cancel on March 14 as a storm loomed.
“It was a difficult decision because people are depending upon a certain date,” to vote, she said.
McGonagle said when the announcement was made to delay the vote on March 13 for two weeks, about 100 people came in for absentee ballots, and since that time, about 72 more, with the ability to bring in those absentee ballots until 5 p.m. on voting day.
For some voters in that town, who had never had town meetings delayed it made no difference whether the vote was held on the normal second Tuesday in March or two weeks later.
“I didn’t even know it,” said Elaine Gagnon of the delay, “We just live down the street so it’s easy.”
Jerry “Buzzy” Gagnon said it didn’t matter to him one way or the other, snow, mud, “We always come.”
Voters did have a few contested races, mostly for school board in Gilford, and some zoning questions but it was not a particularly controversial election said Kevin Hayes, holding a sign for his re-election as Selectman outside the polls, with Sean Murphy who was running for Gilford Budget Committee.
Hayes observed that it seemed slower than normal.
Only a handful of communities in the state’s North Country and Seacoast went to the polls this Tuesday.
Durham, Lee, Barrington, Madbury, Northwood, and Nottingham rescheduled and to the north, Tamworth, Wakefield, Hart’s Location, and the Conway Fire District went out to the polls after the two-week delay while the majority of those postponing were in Cheshire, Hillsborough, Merrimack and Sullivan Counties.
They included Acworth, Alstead, Alton, Amherst, Andover, Antrim, Bedford, Bennington, Bow, Bradford, Brookline, Charlestown, Chester, Chesterfield, the Conval School District, Deerfield, Deering, Effingham, Farmington, Francestown, Gilford, Gilmanton, Goffstown, Grantham, Greenfield, Greenville, Hancock, Harrisville, Hillsborough, Hollis, Hooksett, Hopkinton, Hudson, Jaffrey, the Keene School District, Langdon, Lee, Lempster, Lyme, Lyndeborough, Madbury, Marlborough, Marlow, Mason, Milford, Milton, Mont Vernon, Nelson, New Boston, New Ipswich, New London, Newbury Nottingham, Raymond, Rindge, Salisbury, Sharon, South Hampton, Springfield, Sullivan, Sutton, Temple, Walpole, Warner, Washington, Westmoreland, Wilmot, Wilton, Winchester, and Windsor.
The legislature made provisions for snow days in 2017 allowing moderators to postpone town meeting voting for two weeks if the National Weather Service issues warnings for voting day. It also allows a provision for absentee voting under RSA 669:1.
Results from Tuesday’s voting will be available at the various town halls this week.