News & Issues

House Election Law Committee Moves Into High Gear

Feb 28, 2021 | Election Integrity

Will Over-Voted Ballots Be Corrected And Counted Next Election?

The House Election Law Committee moves into high gear this week. In the next 8 days it will hear 12 bills and hold executive sessions on 13. Sign up for my newsletter to get info on all these bills and more. Today I want to talk about over-voted ballots and how they can impact an election.

An over vote is when the machine detects more votes for a particular race than the office allows. An over vote nullifies all the votes for that particular office on that ballot. Over votes are one of the biggest, non-malicious, reasons for discrepancies between machine-counted and hand-counted ballots. The AccuVote machine has trouble distinguishing between a legitimate vote and a stray mark or a shadow caused by creases on a ballot.  It also cannot determine voter intent when a voter crosses out one oval and fills in another.

In Derry, in November 2020, one of the AccuVote machines was used to exclusively process absentee ballots.  Other machines also processed absentee ballots, but this machine only processed absentee ballots.  This is important because folded absentee ballots are more susceptible to misreading a crease as a vote. 

The machine that exclusively processed absentee ballots recorded over votes on more than 14% of the ballots.  Taken together the eight Accu-vote machines used in Derry in this election recorded an average of over 4.5% of the ballots containing one or more over votes. Those are big numbers and if they all or most of them impacted the same race, they could swing the election. In various districts for which we were able to obtain data, the number of over votes ran over 2%. Still a big number when many high level races in NH are won by a margin of less than 1%.

Section 301 of the Help American Vote Act specifically calls out this issue. It requires that the voter be notified of the problem, informed of the consequences, and given an opportunity to correct the problem, including completing a new ballot.  Vermont and Massachusetts use AccuVote machines, programmed by LHS Associates, as does New Hampshire.  They use code created by LHS to instruct the machine to return the ballot containing an over vote prior to processing it so errors can be addressed. In the case of absentee ballots, the ballot is put aside to be hand counted.

New Hampshire could easily and quickly instruct LHS to include this code on New Hampshire’s machines. The Secretary of State has resisted requesting this code because he says he does not want to embarrass the voter whose ballot is returned. Really! I don’t know about you. I’d rather have the problem pointed out to me than lose my vote. Besides, the evidence we have indicates that the intent of the voter is quite clear on the vast majority of so-called over votes. The problem is a machine reading error.

Over votes are likely to explain some of the differences in the election results in Windham. This is a serious issue with an easy solution. It is time to take steps to make sure that every vote counts.