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NH Primary: Grassroots Democracy in Action

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Note: This op-ed, originally published on November 28, 2005, is being revived today in view of the DNC's recent decision to place Nevada before New Hampshire in the Primary schedule. Unlike New Hampshire, whose primary is run by the State, paid for by NH taxpayers, and held in accordance with the rule of state laws and regulations, Nevada cut a deal with the DNC by offering to play by Democratic Party rules, and even promised to have the whole shebang paid for by their industry - the casinos. New Hampshire is a true greenhouse for grassroots democracy.

Now is not the time to change New Hampshire's first in the nation status for the Democratic primaries. Philosophical discussions over demographics and "fairness" are irrelevant when taken in context of our current electoral crisis. The most important factor for consideration is the security and integrity of the election.

Today, New Hampshire represents the nation's best hope for secure and trusted elections. While we continue to work on improving New Hampshire's election system, it remains exemplar in more ways than not:

  • New Hampshire has a nonpartisan, duly elected Secretary of State.
  • New Hampshire has election day registration, which increases voter turnout and removes the complicating factor of provisional ballots.
  • New Hampshire requires and recognizes the paper ballot (as differentiated from a paper "audit trail") as the vote of record.
  • New Hampshire conducts 45% of its ballot counts by hand.
  • New Hampshire does not use any touch screen voting technology.
  • New Hampshire conducts all recounts using hand counts as the count of record.

New Hampshire must retain its first in the nation primary status until other states in the nation create election systems that rise to the level of competence and integrity found in New Hampshire.

Election Day Registration

Studies show that states with election day registration enjoy a significantly higher voter turnout rate than other states. In fact, election day registration has been identified as the most effective election administration procedure for increasing voter turnout. New Hampshire is among six states that allow election day registration, but three of these states still use provisional ballots for first time registrants lacking proper identification. New Hampshire circumvents the need for costly and inefficient provisional ballots by using affidavits. The wisdom of this choice is reflected in the fact that only 64% of all provisional ballots cast during the 2004 federal election were actually counted.

Hand Marked Hand Counted Paper Ballots

In November 2000, due process for electing our President was usurped in three significant ways:

  1. The purging of voter registration rolls
  2. Voting machine irregularities
  3. The Supreme Court halting of the vote count

In 2002 Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) ostensibly to improve our voting systems following election 2000. But the three central mandates of HAVA actually codified what went wrong in election 2000, so that these problems have now been spread like manure over the election landscape of the entire nation. These mandates and their effects are shown below:

  1. Statewide electronic voter databases: Establishing one-stop shopping for potentially malevolent manipulation of voter registration rolls in every state in the nation
  2. Disability voting access with a stated preference towards computer-based voting systems: Establishing one-stop shopping for the potential of election machine fraud in every state in the nation
  3. Federal oversight of elections: Establishing an Executive Commission composed of four partisan, political presidential appointees with the potential power to inject a partisan agenda into the election systems of every state in the nation

Since the passage of HAVA, some $2.8 billion has been disbursed throughout the nation for "voting system upgrades," resulting in the proliferation of electronic, computer-based voting systems across the nation. Election Data Services reports that in November 2004 only 0.66% of the nation's registered voters cast their ballots in a paper ballot system. In 1980 this figure was 11%. In November 2004 34.93% of the nation's ballots were cast using optical scan machines and 29.35% were cast on touch screen systems. In 1980 these figures were less than 5% and less than 1% respectively.

Across the nation, the wholesale implementation of electronic voting has created serious cracks in the integrity and security of our democratic processes. In October 2005 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) -- a non-partisan audit, evaluation, and investigative agency of the United States Congress -- released a report on the electronic voting systems that were used in the November 2004 election. The report identifies risks in the electronic voting systems currently deployed throughout the nation in a number of areas:

  • Weak system security controls
  • Design flaws in voter-verified paper audit trail systems
  • Weak security management practices
  • Incorrect system configuration
  • Poor implementation of security procedures
  • System failures during elections
  • Vague and incomplete security provisions
  • Inadequate provisions for commercial off-the-shelf systems and telecommunications and networking services
  • Inadequate requirements for vendor documentation
  • Inadequate security testing
  • Lack of transparency in the testing process
  • Poor version control of system software
  • Inadequate security management

The GAO report concludes:

As states have expanded their use of electronic voting systems, the media and others have reported problems with these systems that have caused some to question whether they are secure and reliable....some of these concerns were reported to have caused local problems in federal elections-resulting in the loss or miscount of votes-and therefore merit attention.

New Hampshire stood firm against this tidal wave of taxpayer monies flowing into the pockets of electronic voting industry executives. New Hampshire wisely decided to comply with HAVA without creating massive changes to the State's voting system. Studies have shown that jurisdictions using hand-counted paper ballots reported the highest turnout rates of any type of voting system, making New Hampshire's 45% hand counted polling places significant in election integrity.

Other exemplar elements in the New Hampshire voting systems make New Hampshire a secure and trusted venue for the first in the nation primary.


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