Machine-tabulated 2020 election results in Windham, New Hampshire, were likely different from a later hand-recount because of the way the town folded absentee ballots before they were delivered to voters, an election audit has determined. The ballot folds caused election-day totals to mistakenly exclude some votes and count extra votes for a local Democratic candidate.
The group conducting the audit, which was called for after Democratic state House candidate Kristi St. Laurent lost her race and a recount revealed discrepancies in the vote totals, emphasized that “no evidence of fraud or political bias” was found.
“[A]uditors investigating the election in the town of Windham believe a folding machine used by the town to try to accommodate the numbers of absentee ballots in the November election is responsible for mistakenly adding to vote counts for candidates in four legislative seats,” NBC Boston reported.
That folding machine, auditors say, has normally been used to fold car registration documents, reports WMUR.
“The town used the machine to fold the absentee ballots before sending them to voters. After they were returned, the ballots were fed into a counting machine. Because the folds on some ballots went through a Democrats name, the ballot was either not counted or a vote was wrongly given to the Democrat,” the NBC report added (emphasis added).
None of the race outcomes were changed due to the recount, as the same candidates were victorious in the election day count and in the November hand recount. After that November recount, four Republicans gained between 297 and 303 votes each, while three Democrats gained between 18 and 28 votes each, NHPR reported last year. One Democrat, St. Laurent, lost 99 votes.
“If a voter didn’t fill in the bubble for their preferred candidate correctly, a machine might not interpret that as a valid vote — but a person looking at the same ballot would likely catch that mark and recognize the voter’s intent,” NHPR reports. “And if a voter appeared to fill in too many bubbles — or, if the machine thought a voter filled in too many bubbles, because one of the bubbles had a fold line through it — it could also throw off the machine count.”
The recount did not reveal discrepancies for other races, such as the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races. “While there was a little bit of variation, as is expected during any recount, those results didn’t differ from the machine counts as widely as the results for the state representative race,” reported NHPR.
Mark Lindeman, an auditor and co-director of Verified Voting, said the audit uncovered “no evidence of fraud or political bias,” and also said that he hadn’t heard “a credible hypothesis of how fraud could account for what we found.”
Lindeman added that they “have no reason to think that it’s a statewide or national issue, although it’s certainly possible that it occurred in other localities.”
New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner agreed.
Gardner “said ballots are sent to towns and cities with score marks to facilitate folding and the state ensures those marks don’t go through the ovals where votes are marked,” NBC Boston reported.
“There’s never been a ballot we sent out that was scored over an oval,” Gardner said.
“While it’s unknown how many other communities might use a folding machines like the one Windham did, Gardner said he suspects that few, if any, do,” the report added. “While the number of absentee ballots skyrocketed due to the pandemic, they generally make up a small percentage of the votes and communities don’t have a problem folding ballots by hand.”
A recount was first asked for by St. Laurent and the audit later gained support from both parties.
St. Laurent says she’s “satisfied with the audit and was counting on either the legislature or the secretary of state’s office take action to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again,” NCB Boston noted.
“They have been very thorough, very transparent and it’s also clear that it’s multiple factors that led to the results we had on election night” the losing Democrat said.
The auditors are expected to release a full report in July.
Election audits are also currently taking place in numerous counties throughout the nation, most notably in Maricopa Country, Arizona, and Fulton County, Georgia.
Last month, the AZ audit grabbed national attention when the Department of Justice intervened, sending a letter to the president of the Arizona state Senate suggesting the recount is illegal. The audit, however, has continued on.
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