GOP push to count paper ballots by hand is latest effort to cast doubt on election

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In at least three states — Utah, New Hampshire and Texas — Republicans have pushed to ban traditional ballot-scanning machines in favor of hand-counting paper ballots, an outdated process that experts fear could infuse election systems bugs, which are almost undetected. Critics also worry that the inevitable delay in hand results is an opportunity for those looking to cast doubt on the outcome of future games.

For example, a Republican county governor in Texas said he was “concerned” about the election, even though Trump won the Lone Star state by more than 630,000 votes and there was no evidence that fraud or irregularities affected the results there or anywhere else.

“I believe in people. I don’t believe in electronics,” Daniel Rogers, chairman of the Porter County Republican Party in the Texas Panhandle, told CNN in explaining his push to count votes by hand. “I have computers; they don’t always do what we want.”

A return to manual vote counting is not a new concept. Punch-card ballots were miscounted by hanging pieces of paper (“hanging chads”) on voting machines in Florida, becoming a point of contention in the contentious 2000 election. Since then, voting machines have come under increasing scrutiny, with Republicans stepping up scrutiny after Trump began making baseless fraud allegations.

But, going back to the premise behind manual counting – that it’s somehow more secure – there’s not much evidence to back it up.

In rare cases, voting machines can cause major election problems, said Douglas Jones, a retired University of Iowa computer science professor and voting machine expert. But usually it takes people to screw things up.

“In the U.S., mechanical voting machines don’t have any clerical errors, unless someone makes a mistake in configuring the machine, and then they’re big,” Jones told CNN.

He said manual counts only apply to elections where there is a problem with ballots, such as special elections or off-cycle election years. In large elections with multiple candidates and positions to fill, voting machines are best, Jones said, because hand counts can be affected by “clerical errors” such as election officials may forget to include a constituency in the final result or A constituency is counted twice.

Jones described as “sloppy” some examples of individual voting discrepancies seized by Republicans, none of which affected the outcome.
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“They tend to report very real sloppiness. But that doesn’t amount to systemic trading. It amounts to people being under pressure, trying to get things done quickly and making mistakes,” Jones said.

“When you count with your hands, you make the same mistake,” he added.

Republicans seize on controversy in New Hampshire town

Republicans in the New Hampshire House of Representatives have pre-filed proposed legislation that would ban the use of ballot scanners in favor of counting ballots by hand.

State Rep. Norman Silber, one of the sponsors, told CNN that the bill is designed to restore what he believes to be lost confidence in the voting process. But the bill has drawn criticism from Democrats, such as state Rep. Matt Wilhelm, who told The New York Times last month that taking the time to announce the results could create more opportunities to challenge the legitimacy of the election.

“If they had an extra window of time where the Granite state legislators didn’t know the outcome of the election they just ran, that would be suspicious of our democratic system,” William told the paper. .

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In making his case for the bill, Silber pointed to the disparity in Windham’s 2020 state legislative outcome, which Trump and his allies used to cast doubt on the election. (Trump lost the Granite state by nearly 60,000 votes—a deficit far worse than Wyndham’s relevant vote.)

The controversy began when a losing candidate called for a recount and found that a decades-old machine had undercounted four Republican state legislative candidates by about 300 votes and overcounted a Democratic candidate. 99 votes. However, those small differences didn’t make any difference to the overall result — four Republicans still won, while Democrats lost.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu then signed a measure authorizing the audit, but even he said at the time that isolated incidents like Wyndham’s were no reason to worry about the state’s election. “The election in New Hampshire is safe, secure and secure,” he said last April. “In the hundreds of thousands of votes cast last year, we’ve only seen very small, isolated issues – proving that our system is working.”

According to a report from the Office of the Secretary of State and Attorney General, the audit revealed the discrepancy was due to the “folding” of voting bubbles on some absentee ballots caused by election officials using “machine-folding absentee ballots.”

“We do not find any reason to believe that the false statistics found at Wyndham indicate partisanship or electoral defeat,” the state’s report reads.

Former Republican state representative and Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan pushed back against the idea that the Wyndham incident was a scanner issue, saying it stemmed from a decision by local election officials to use “folders.” in the office” because of the heavy workload.

Scanlan said that under state law, towns and cities have the right to decide whether to use a counting machine, but added that counting discrepancies are most likely to occur in manual counting.

Still, some voters in other Granite State towns such as Hampton, Greenland and Kensington have pushed for manual counts.

Introducing his petition in November, Douglas Wilson, who led Greenland’s failed effort, said he “believes poll workers that the problem is with the machines.” Wilson noted that he is concerned about the handling and possible tampering of memory cards and microchips inside voting equipment.

But Dean Bufad, the town’s chief election officer, was quick to dismiss those concerns, explaining that memory cards and microchips are handled only by election officials, tested and sealed before use. Bouffard also said that the voting machines were not connected to any wireless network and therefore could not communicate over the Internet. Greenland voted 1,077 to 120 against banning voting machines last month.

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AccuVote machines have been in use in New Hampshire since the mid-1990s, according to the secretary of state’s office, and Scanlan said there was no evidence any of the machines had been hacked, echoing Bouffard’s claim that they “are stand-alone devices without wireless capabilities, and All external ports have been disabled.”

Other voters, including Hampton Selectman Regina Barnes, raised concerns about the age of machine software, calling it a “big issue” at an October meeting.

Scanlan admitted to CNN that the software is old, but “he is not aware of any glitches”, saying the machines are “very accurate, as long as voters use them to mark their ballots correctly.”

Petition in Utah

A ballot initiative in Utah, which Trump won comfortably in 2020, aims to bring the state back to in-person voting in local districts, with all ballots, including absentee ballots, being hand-counted by election judges on election night.

Utah is one of the few states where elections are held almost exclusively by mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. All registered voters will receive a ballot, no request is required. Most of the state uses ES&S machines to count votes, according to state elections director Ryan Cowley.

The initiative to ditch the machines was spearheaded by Utah Safe Voting, an organization led by Lumore, who ran the 2008 Republican presidential campaign of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Moore stressed that he did not “make any allegations” about anything that could have happened in Utah, nor did he accuse anyone of “malfeasance.” But he continued to question the machines that count votes without any basis.

“They’re just machines that revolve around you. I mean, you don’t know what’s going on with these machines,” he said.

But Cowley did know. He told CNN that each county conducts pre-election tests of its voting machines to make sure they read ballots correctly. He added that after the election, each county conducts a “public audit,” which takes about 1 percent of each county’s votes and compares how machines read ballots with how they were cast.

“There’s never been a difference between those totals and how those ballots are counted,” Cowley said.

Concerns about Texas Hands

Trump also has a big win in Texas, where Mayor Rogers wants his county’s March Republican primary to be counted by hand.

His proposal was met with surprise and logistical concerns from Porter County election administrator Melynn Huntley, who said a full count could take as long as 20 to 22 hours.

She also worries that it will lead to confusion among voters because of the rules about how primary voters can vote in both the primary and the general election. Primary voters must go to a polling place near them, not polling centers around the state where any registered voter can go.

After the county commissioner failed to pass his resolution, Rogers eventually abandoned his plan — although his statement at the time acknowledged some of the same logistics that Republican voters had to use two different ballots in the primary and general election The problem – but he didn’t give up.

He vowed to keep pushing the hand-marked and hand-counted ballot process, repeating unfounded claims about its superior security.

“We will continue to further advocate for ideas and solutions that voters can trust that require hand-marking ballots that are cost-effective, reliable, secure, and fraud-proof,” Rogers said.

Regardless of Rogers’ efforts, some changes are being made to the county’s current direct-record electronic system, in which voters make their choices on a digital terminal that records vote totals directly into computer memory. Huntley said the county is moving toward a voter-verified paper-based system in which voters’ choices will include paper backups. Voting by mail is currently the only paper-based voting method.

In an effort to make voting harder in the state in 2021, the Republican-led legislature passed a bill that would require all counties to begin switching to voting machines that provide paper records by 2026.

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