On July 25th, NH Secretary of State Dave Scanlan, addressed the Rotary Club of Nashua regarding voter confidence. Mr. Scanlan took office on January 10, 2022. Prior to that, he served as Acting Secretary of State upon the resignation of then Secretary of State Bill Gardner on January 10, 2021, and as Deputy Secretary of State since 2002. Prior to that, he was a member of the NH House of Representative for 8 terms. Born in Pennsylvania, Mr. Scanlan has a degree in Forestry and was a licensed forester in the NH private sector. Mr. Scanlan formed a Special Committee on Voter Confidence in April 2022, and that Committee will be in Nashua on August 15 for a Listening Session (5 pm, Nashua City Hall, Third Floor Auditorium).
Mr. Scanlan opened his remarks by noting that he is a fellow Rotarian (Bow Club) and that he enjoyed our singing, commenting that Bow (for probably very good reasons) doesn’t sing.
Mr. Scanlan has full faith in the way NH runs our elections. Our success rests on our great volunteers who make that happen, our simple approach to voting, and our decades of experience. He also noted that we are fairly unique in the country, because we’ve stayed away from the Federal acts that have made things more unified in the rest of the country. In fact, New Hampshire is exempt from the Voter Registration Act of 1993, which most notably means that in NH, you can’t register to vote as part of the motor vehicle registration system. Elections are also decentralized down to the cities and towns, not run by the state. His job is to make to provide support to the local election officials, not to run the elections.  New Hampshire is one of the easiest states to register and cast your vote. Every voter registers to vote with a local election official, face-to-face. Because of that, we have confidence that the voter is qualified to vote where they register.
With all that said, elections are going through a tough path with challenges and a growing decline in voter confidence. This has been exacerbated by the elections in 2020 with the complications caused  by  COVID. There were significantly more absentee voters (30% vs 10% before that). That sheer volume caused issues.
In NH, the biggest issues were in Windham., which used an uncalibrated folding machine as a way to help streamline their system of absentee ballots, and the ballots didn’t fold as they should have. This caused an arbitrary fold line that went over a candidate’s name, which caused that name to appear to have a vote cast for it. It was a very, very close vote, so a recount was held and the numbers between the original tally and the recount were way off – over 300 votes were picked up by the Republican candidate, while the Democrat candidate lost 100 votes. While the outcome of the election didn’t change, at the time this discrepancy couldn’t be explained by town officials. In response, the legislature passed a law that allowed an audit, and the audit uncovered the folding issue which ultimately caused the misreading of votes. In another community, 100 ballots were misplaced, and there was a delay in finding out about that, which led to more confusion and voter concern. And in Laconia, a moderator training led to an issue, where a side bin on the machine(s) for ballots that needed to be hand-counted was overlooked, and when it was finally opened, officials found ballots from multiple elections, not just the most recent one.
Today, most concerns about election integrity center on cyber security. Also, our elections have become highly politicized, with party officials thinking that if they can just get the right person in place at the highest level of election oversight, things could be swayed in certain ways. He believes the NH way of selecting a Secretary of State is a better – and less political – one than a general election to select the Secretary of State.
Because of social media and instant communication, one of the greatest challenges the Secretary of State’s office faces is completing with messaging to voters. NH is mounting a campaign to promote that trusted officials are at the local and state level, you can go to those individuals to get your information, because there won’t be a ‘hidden’ agenda there.
The net result of what we’re seeing, that has been building since Bush-Gore, is that national leaders are making statements about whether you can believe the outcomes of elections, whether the President was really elected. Mr. Scanlan gives Al Gore credit for saying, after the final decision came down, that the election was over, the votes are what they are, the President is the President. Today’s approach seems to be different now, in favor of sowing confusion and doubt.
Mr. Scanlan stated that the principle that “Every voter should have an easy ability to cast a ballot” is pretty much universally accepted, but the details – starting with whether the voter is qualified to vote and that that can be proven – start to cause issues. 
Absentee voting helps make voting easier for those who will be absent from their community on election day, or who have a physical disability making voting at a polling place difficult or impossible. Some think you should be able to vote absentee with no excuse. We’ve required a signature match in the past from the written request for a ballot and that on the returned ballot; however, we recently lost a court case on signature matching (brought by a blind voter who said he couldn’t see his signature so had no way to ensure that his signatures matched), so now we can’t do signature matches, we can only require that there be a signature.
Voter ID at the point of voting is another area where there have been attempts to make it easier and to make it; public sentiment seems to equate “easier” with vote fraud and “harder” with voter suppression and often racism, so those efforts have been controversial.
So we see frustration as a result. There could be more safeguards but those are very hard to get put in place. It’s a delicate balance. 
In New Hampshire, there are lots of checks and balances in the polling place. The clerks who hand out the ballots are appointed by the political parties; ballots challenges can be easily made, and it’s very easy to get a recount where every ballot is counted by hand and can be challenged.  
Mr. Scanlon created the Committee on Voter Confidence to start to address the confusion and frustration that’s growing. The Committee is going around the state, hearing from experts, looking at the voting machines, holding listening sessions, with a goal of ensuring that we are more transparent in the election process – most complaints come from the parts of the process they can’t actually see (the inner workings of the machines, for example). He noted that all New Hampshire machines are “stand alone,” not connected to the internet or any on-line access, so interference from that source is virtually impossible. The Secretary of State’s Office and the Committee are also looking to do over education and are asking local political parties to help them do just that.
In conclusion, Mr. Scanlan sees what we’re going through now as just a phase that we will get through and ultimately voter confidence will rebound.
In response to questions, Mr. Scanlon confirmed that all New Hampshire ballots are done on paper. If a machine is used (local option), each machine tallies the votes on that machine, all of the machine totals are then added by the election official, hand ballots (including absentee ballots) are then added, the election official fills out the official results paperwork, posts a copy at the polling place, and then sends the paperwork via state trooper to the Secretary of State’s office, where they are reviewed and officially certified. In the instance where the Secretary of State’s office finds what they think is an error, they don’t change anything, but rather send it back to the local officials for concurrence or further review.
Mr. Scanlan also confirmed that New Hampshire has “open” primaries. Each primary is open to members of that party on primary day, as well as to any Independent, who can select which primary to vote in; the Independent then becomes a member of that party by virtue of the vote, but can switch back, in most cases immediately after voting.
Ernie Jette commented that he often observes long lines of waiting voters, especially during a Presidential election, as well as issues with those whose work prevents them from voting during normal voting hours in their community, and suggested that more liberal use of absentee ballots, as well as voting by mail, would alleviate those issues. Mr. Scanlan observed that inability to vote because of work hours is already an allowable use of absentee ballots, and also noted that there is a proposed Constitutional question which would allow further leeway. He noted that if unusually long lines are observed, either the Secretary of State’s office or the Attorney General’s office should be contacted; they will send someone to the polling place to investigate and, if the delay is caused by an internal issue, they can resolve it. He also noted that electronic voter registration lists can now be used, which may also alleviate lines caused by too many people with the same last initial trying to vote at the same time.
Finally, Mr. Scanlan addressed the issue of our First in the Nation primary status. He feels that we provide a unique service that few other states can offer. Geographically, we are small enough to allow candidates access to the entire state, even those who are not well known and may lack financial resources, and our culture and our voters are used to vetting candidates and are not afraid to ask hard questions; candidates who succeed in New Hampshire often point to their experience here as having made them better candidates. Additionally, many other states place barriers to getting on their state ballot that we don’t have. Pretty much anyone who qualifies for office can simply need to pay a $1,000 filing fee, which is waived by collecting 10 signatures in each of the 10 NH counties. Those who say we’re not diverse enough are simply playing the race card as a red herring.