CONCORD, NH (AP) — Growing distrust of the security of voting systems has sparked a back to the future among conservatives in parts of the United States
Republican lawmakers in at least six states have introduced legislation that would require all ballots to be counted by hand instead of electronic tabulation. Similar proposals have been floated within some local governments, including a dozen towns in New Hampshire and Washoe County in the presidential battleground state of Nevada.
The push for manual ballot counting comes amid mistrust of the election among many Republicans who believe the false narrative that widespread fraud cost former President Donald Trump’s re-election during the 2020 presidential race. Despite no evidence of widespread fraud or major irregularities, conspiracy theories proliferated among his allies that the voting systems were somehow manipulated to favor Democrat Joe Biden. This prompted calls to ban electronic tabulators used to scan ballots, record votes and compile race tallies.
“It is our responsibility, and it should be our desire, to count every vote and inspire confidence in our citizens that our elections are fair and free, and that their votes are counted,” the state representative said. of New Hampshire, Mark Alliegro, sponsor. of a manual counting bill similar to those proposed in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Washington and West Virginia.
Alliegro said he was motivated by his analysis of recounts in nearly 50 New Hampshire state legislative races, not the 2020 presidential election.
But some of the bill’s supporters are pointing to the 2020 election to explain why they believe its manual tally legislation is needed. They cite a belief that Trump actually won a landslide victory and that cheating is the only way to explain how New Hampshire voters elected a Republican governor and GOP majorities in the Legislative Assembly, but then lost. backed Democrats for federal office.
Critics of proposals to abandon electronic ballot tabulators and return to manual counting are candid about what they see as the motivation.
“It comes from conspiracy theories and lies,” said Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for Common Cause, a nonpartisan group that advocates for expanded voter access. “He’s trying to reduce people’s confidence in elections.”
Albert and others said it’s unrealistic to think that election officials can count millions of ballots by hand and report the results quickly, given that ballots often include dozens of races. Last summer’s partisan review of the 2 million ballots cast in Maricopa County, Arizona, which included a manual count, took several months and hundreds of people.
“If you have a jurisdiction with 500 voters, you might be OK. But if you have a jurisdiction with thousands of voters, tens of thousands of voters, hundreds of thousands of voters, it just won’t work,” said Jennifer Morrell, a former election clerk from Colorado and Utah which now advises on state and local elections. officials.
Even in small towns in New Hampshire, hand counting is a messy and time-consuming process when a typical ballot might include 50 questions, said Milford Clerk Joan Dargie, who spoke against the bill. on behalf of the New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association. She estimates her city should increase its number of election workers from 200 to 350, and said many of her fellow clerks have said they would quit if they had to tabulate every ballot by hand.
“People asking to get rid of the machines obviously haven’t worked in an election,” she said.
As an example, Cobb County, Georgia conducted a state-ordered manual count after the 2020 election. It took hundreds of people five days to count only votes for president out of approximately 397,000 ballots, said Janine Eveler, chief electoral officer for Metro Atlanta County. She estimates it would have taken 100 days to count every run on every ballot using the same procedures.
Machine counting is not only faster. Several studies have shown it’s also more accurate, said Charles Stewart, a professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The first research on the topic was done nearly two decades ago by comparing New Hampshire race accounts that were originally tabulated by hand with those tabulated by machines. In this study and subsequent research, the machines won out, he said.
“Counting the votes is very tedious. Human beings are bad at doing tedious things, and computers are very good at doing tedious things,” Stewart said.
Most states also conduct post-election audits designed to identify any irregularities in the scanning and counting of ballots. But with many Republicans believing Biden was not legitimately elected, the election machines have become a popular target.
In Nevada, a Republican county commissioner is proposing a proposal that would require manual counting of all ballots, along with a return to mostly in-person voting and increased uniformed security at polling places.
“I’m 82 and I’ve been through many elections,” Washoe County Commissioner Jeanne Herman said. “I know something is wrong.”
The proposal drew opposition from other commissioners, the state’s largest labor union and a rare front-page editorial in Northern Nevada’s largest newspaper, which said the measure could cost taxpayers ” millions of dollars to chase rumors of illusory elections on Facebook”. fraud.”
In West Virginia, a bill to repeal the state law governing tabbing machines died in committee earlier this month. In Missouri, lawmakers have yet to act on a proposal that would ban electronic voting machines and tabulation equipment and require manual counting to be broadcast live and recorded.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Mitch Boggs Jr., said he had no evidence the election was manipulated, but was addressing voter concerns.
“You’re filing what voters are asking for,” Boggs said. “But at the end of the day, what they really want is just transparency. They want to know that our elections are safe.
Republican State Rep. Petty McGaugh said the legislation would delay election results and likely compromise their accuracy. When she became clerk of rural Carroll County in 1995, election workers still counted ballots by hand by marking tallies in blocks of five on paper. She noticed multiple errors and eventually switched the county to an electronic tabulation system.
“I don’t really think that in our time we need to go back to manual counting where it’s so susceptible to human error,” she said. “We have to start trusting electronics and computers.”
In New Hampshire, that message seems to have gotten through. Last week, a state House committee unanimously recommended scrapping manual counting legislation, and voters in nine cities where the question appeared on the ballot in local elections rejected it.
Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers David A. Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri; Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada; and Leah Willingham in Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this report.