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New Hampshire Lawmaker Derails Election Portal Bill

Opposition from state Rep. Steven Smith of Charlestown proved the key factor in the demise of a bill intended to make it easier for people to vote and more efficient for election workers to tally that vote.

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(TNS) — Opposition from Republican state Rep. Steven Smith of Charlestown proved the key factor in the demise of a bill intended to make it easier for people to vote and more efficient for election workers to tally that vote.

Senate Bill 70, which passed the Senate on a voice vote on Feb. 9, would have established an online election information portal to allow people to register to vote, change registration information or request an absentee ballot.

It passed the House on a voice vote on June 8, with an amendment aimed at helping municipalities purchase new ballot-counting devices. Most of the ballots cast in New Hampshire elections are counted by machines that are up to 30 years old and becoming obsolete.

The House and Senate passed different versions of the bill. A Committee of Conference was formed, comprising seven lawmakers from each chamber and both parties, to work out those differences.

Everyone on the committee, except Smith, supported a compromise measure last week. Unanimous support is required in such committees, which are required when the two chambers differ on a piece of legislation.

The upshot is that the issue will be dead until next year's legislative session.

In an interview Wednesday, Smith said he objected to a provision in the measure he felt didn't include sufficient legislative oversight of federal funds the Secretary of State could use for "special projects supporting voting technology in cities and towns."

Such projects could have included helping towns buy new voting machines.

"I didn't like the idea of just ceding legislative authority to the Secretary of State on how this would be developed and implemented," said Smith, who is in his seventh term.

Secretary of State David Scanlan said Wednesday that he supported the committee's compromise proposal. He added that any use of federal funds by his office would already be governed by state and federal regulations.

"The measure would certainly have provided the flexibility we need in this office to maintain existing programs and to help out where we can if we have extra funds," Scanlan said.

Currently in New Hampshire, people wishing to register before an election must appear before an election official, provide a registration application and show the appropriate identification or fill out an affidavit in lieu of that documentation.

The portal would have allowed these people to register online. It would save time for election officials and make the process easier for voters, Scanlan said. The newly registered voters would present their identification when they showed up to vote.

It would also have allowed people to request absentee ballots online, rather than having to do it in person or through the mail.

Scanlan said a state board will decide later this year on a successor to the AccuVote vote-tallying machine now used across the state. There will be a transition period, and the new machines will not be required for the 2024 election, Scanlan said.

For his part, Smith said he has general concerns about the proposed election portal.

"Full disclosure, I was never a fan of the bill in the first place," he said.

Smith said he would prefer to set up a commission, which could include legislators, state information-technology workers and private experts, to oversee the portal.

"I was a software and systems integration tester for many years," he said.

"I wonder, could somebody in Zimbabwe access the system and request a ballot? Are there going to be controls for that?

"There's potential for mischief to overwhelm the system. What would the controls be for that? These are all questions I wanted answered before agreeing that a portal is a good idea."

© 2023 The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.