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Paper ballots key to honest elections


By State Rep. Richard Kennedy
Nashua Telegraph   Sunday, Nov. 28, 2004

Because of events in Florida during the 2000 election, many election officials around the country have become gun-shy of ballot recounts. In New Hampshire, we aren?t afraid of recounts. In fact, our laws encourage them.

Given the current national scrutiny of elections, it is prudent to examine the election history of our state. New Hampshire?s elections have faced a high level of scrutiny since the nation began paying close attention to the New Hampshire Presidential Primary.

Our first-in-the-nation primary has provided New Hampshire the benefits and the burdens of greater scrutiny over the years. One of the benefits is that our Legislature, working with the secretary of state and attorney general, has consistently chosen the high road when it has faced questions of election administration.

As one member of the House Committee on Election Law, I am in a unique position to comment on this issue. I have participated in recounts on three occasions, one in which the outcome remained the same and two in which the outcome was changed.

In one situation, a tabulation error mistakenly subtracted 100 voters from my total. It was only because of a thorough review during a recount that the correct results decided the outcome. If democracy is to flourish in this nation, all elected officials and their supporters deserve a similar opportunity to retrace what happened in their elections.

As a Second Amendment advocate, I am skeptical of the power of government.

Like a person?s right to bear arms, the paper ballot recount is an equalizer that provides the common citizen a second chance, if necessary, to thwart tyranny.

Elections are often close. They can be decided by a single vote. After the September primary in our state, there were seven recounts. Three of these races were decided by two votes or less. None of the close races was subject to controversy. The winners and losers went away satisfied.

In our state, a candidate receiving only one vote has the right to ask for a recount. As a result, we have more recounts than any other state. In 1996, New Hampshire recounted 18 races involving 96 candidates. In 2000, our state recounted 32 races involving 137 candidates.

Just two months ago, a voter readiness report released by the Paul Weyrich?s Free Congress Foundation gave New Hampshire an ?A,? citing the state?s equipment reliability and verifiable recount preparedness. A 2003 survey by the UNH Survey Center revealed that the state?s voters are extremely confident in the accuracy of its elections.

It concerns me deeply that some states do not provide for simple, inexpensive recounts, and that about 30 percent of all votes in the 2004 election were counted by machines that do not even allow for a recount.

I was shocked to discover that the newly established federal Elections Assistance Commission is actually promoting a ?best practice? that contemplates regurgitating the previous electronic count by a voting machine and calling it a recount. So if the software is casting a different ballot than the voter, there is no way to catch the problem!

Easy recounts reap major benefits over time, and have led to early adoption of good practices in elections. In 1974, a recount resulting from the closest U.S. Senate election in American history obliged New Hampshire to tighten up its election laws.

By 1986, multiple recounts of punch card ballots revealed the hanging chad problems and caused the state to eliminate punch cards. In 1988, the State Republican Convention enacted a resolution calling for a recountable paper ballot.

In 1994, after a recount involving voting machines without a paper trail, Manchester Rep. Leo Pepino got the Legislature to enact the nation?s first law requiring that voting machines use paper ballots.

This debate is not about who wins or loses. It?s about whether we can trust the system. For the election to be a success, the loser must be convinced the outcome is legitimate. The issue is whether voters in states with recountable ballots can trust the results of states without a credible recount process.

The annual federal budget amounts to more than $2 trillion. Why bother auditing government spending down to dollars and cents, when you can?t audit the process of choosing those who spend the money?
State Rep. Richard Kennedy, R-Hopkinton, is a member of the House Committee on Election Law.

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