New Hampshire Won't Be Like Iowa, But

But Don't Expect Instant Results, and Watch For Questions About Electronic Polling Books

Although the forces of disinformation will undoubtedly attempt to game the interpretation of the results, there are several important reasons why New Hampshire won’t be a second Iowa, and it’s worth noting them, in rough order.

  1. New Hampshire has a Secretary of State that a majority of voters, election officials, campaign officials, the media, and candidates largely trust. His name is Bill Gardner. He is a zealous advocate for his state’s first-in-the-nation primary status. (It goes without saying: Iowa Democrats ran the Iowa caucuses. The state of New Hampshire runs the presidential primary, although Gardner is a Democrat.) Trust in Bill Gardner is essential. There are few officials like him in the country: people associated with the integrity of the system by which we choose our leaders. If something goes wrong, folks in New Hampshire will give Gardner leeway to sort it out and explain it publicly. You can bet that he is ready. If there are problems, then his stubbornness, a trait which has catalyzed efforts to vote him out of office, might be responsible.

  2. Being a primary, New Hampshire counts votes. There are no “State Delegate Equivalents” or viability thresholds. The Democratic Party of New Hampshire decides how to apportion delegates based on the total number of votes cast, but the only number that matters to voters on Tuesday is the allotment their votes add to.

  3. New Hampshire does not rely on computers connected to each other, or to the Internet, to count votes. Votes for the primary are tallied by machines. Most of them were built by a company called Accuvote; the tallies are read aloud and tallied in public. Accuvote’s machines are never linked together, so someone can’t implant malware on one machine with the goal of infecting others. The machines are old. Close to 90 percent of all votes cast on election night will be placed into the Accuvote machines. About a third of New Hampshire municipalities use other machines that the state certified.

  4. New Hampshire has been transparent and open about its voting process security evaluations. It lists relevant documents online.

New Hamsphire isn’t perfect, here. Gardner won’t allow post-election audits, which angers local officials.

The state recently came up with a way to ensure that the individual machines are relatively tamper proof, but it relies on human beings to verify.

And since the machines have to be programmed ahead of each election, that programming is distributed via the Internet to local authorities ahead of the vote. If someone wanted to mess around with all of the machines, they could hack into the programming instructions that are then uploaded to the machines individually. That this did — or could — happen is highly unlikely, but the vulnerability remains.

The memory cards that store the tabulations for each machine are collected and secured after the vote. All recounts would be overseen by Gardner, which has historically rankled local election officials, many of whom want to take extra steps to ensure an accurate count.

State law does not require automatic recounts. (All of the ballots are kept in the case of a statewide recount, which would have to be requested by, and paid for, a candidate. This could take weeks. But it would be transparent.)

A final potential point of concern: New Hampshire now allows its localities to use electronic polling books to check in votes. The State certified vendors, and cities and towns can choose whether to try one of the new electronic methods or stick with off-line voter books. It hired a firm to make sure that communication between the ePollbooks are encrypted. This is a new system, though, and although electronic polling books are designed to speed up the process of signing in voters, there may be glitches and delays. It’s not clear whether local officials have been trained to prevent intruders from trying to tamper with their access to the state voter rolls, which are updated daily.

Those of us who live in California are used to waiting hours, and even days, before knowing the winner of many local elections. Such is life. Call it the California chill-out. But news anchors and Steve Kornackis are impatient creatures — no shame, though. Counting ballots by hand takes time, and if the race is close next Tuesday, we may not know who wins until Wednesday. Prepare for that!