NH Supreme Court case about ballot-counting machines draws a crowd

By DAVID BROOKS

Concord Monitor

Published: 11-30-2023 6:58 PM

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has taken into consideration arguments from an Auburn man that ballot-counting machines shouldn’t be used at polling places because the correct legal underpinning does not exist in New Hampshire’s constitution.

Daniel Richard of Auburn, N.H., who is not a lawyer, represented himself in Wednesday’s oral arguments before the court.

The Supreme Court took up the case after Richard appealed a 2022 rejection of his lawsuit by Rockingham County Superior Court.

Richard argued Wednesday that a series of federal and state legal precedents mean that requiring the use of the machines by voters would require approval in the state constitution.

He wants the state to forbid their use and to alter a number of state election laws, including those covering the use of absentee ballots — he told the Supreme Court that all absentee ballots cast in the state since 1979 are “defective” — and definition of who is a “qualified voter” able to cast ballots is inadequate.

Attorneys for the state and the town of Auburn, which Richard sued along with legislative leaders and Gov. Chris Sununu, dispute his points.

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Among other things, said Matthew Conley, attorney for the Secretary of State and the state government, there has been “no evidence of injury” — that is, of people being unable to cast a secret ballot because of the existence of the machines.

The oral arguments drew a large and feisty crowd of supporters, several carrying large American flags, some with Plymouth Patriots banners on them, and a number wearing hats supporting Donald Trump.

The crowd overflowed the parking lots around the Supreme Court building and filled the 75-person chambers, with at least that many people left outside.

Mike McLaughlin, of Plymouth, N.H., was there to support Richard in his quest to make sure elections are fair.

“If voting laws — use of machines, registering to vote processes — are being passed without the people’s consent, then you have a government who’s running over people,” he said. “This isn’t the government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

A number of Republican office-holders and supporters have attacked the use of ballot-counting machines in New Hampshire as part of a general pattern of sowing doubt about the legitimacy of elections. New Hampshire has used ballot-counting machines since the 1980s. 

The Secretary of State’s Office has assured the public, the state’s elections are run fairly, with no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

The machines optically register marks made by each voter on their paper ballot and tally the result, leaving the ballot available for recounts.

The state has approved two models that towns and cities can buy to replace aging AccuVote machines.

Analysis of state elections has shown that they are usually more accurate than counting ballots by hand on election night.