The 2020 Windham election audit in New Hampshire concluded on May 27. The process was live streamed at the Edward Cross Training Center in Pembroke, with several reporters and observers on-site. The final report from the audit team is due 45 days from the audit completion date, and is expected to elaborate on reports of high error rates and issues with ballot folds.
“Now, we have captured the data… Now, we have to go back to do the analysis, and there might be something in the data, which we now have, which we haven’t yet understood,” auditor Harri Hursti told observers, reports Washington Examiner. The audit, which inspected the results of the Rockingham County District 7 House of Representatives race, will not change the official results of the election.
High error rates
The Windham auditor found that up to 60 percent of the ballots with hand or machine-made folds were read improperly by the town’s four AccuVote optical scanning machines. “The error rate was way higher than we expected,” Hursti said to the New Hampshire Union Leader. The issue is believed to have been caused by ballot folds.
According to Hursti, if the ballot fold went through Democrat candidate Kristi St. Laurent’s name, the voting machine would register a vote. If a voter selected all four of the Republican candidates down the line, the machine would interpret the ballot as an “over-vote” and would not count it towards the tally. However, if the voter did not choose all four Republican candidates and the fold went through St. Laurent’s name, the machine sometimes counted a vote for her.
In an experiment conducted by the audit team, 75 ballots were passed through the machines. Despite the fact that none of the ballots were marked for St. Laurent, the machine interpreted 25 folds in the batch as votes for the Democrat candidate. In a tweet, the auditors stated that a machine only counted “28% of the 75 votes for each R (Republican) candidate in this contest.”
The ballot error could be a statewide concern. “Throughout New Hampshire, you’re using the same voting machines, the AccuVote, and in principle, it could be an issue… It really depends where the folds are in relationship to the vote targets,” auditor Phillip Stark told WMUR.
Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan told the media outlet that around 200 polling stations in the state use AccuVote scanners to count ballots, accounting for around two-thirds of the polling places in New Hampshire. The machines have been in use for around 25 to 30 years.
“We’re just reserved in what we have to say until they get further into this and make some concrete findings,” Scanlan said. He added that his office would decide on the next steps when more details became available from the auditors.
Ballots can get new folds when voters send in their absentee ballots to the city or town clerks for counting. In the 2020 election, New Hampshire allowed universal absentee voting due to the coronavirus pandemic. Almost 261,062 absentee ballots were cast, accounting for 32 percent of the 814,092 total ballots. In contrast, only 75,035 absentee ballots were cast during the 2016 election.
“New Hampshire’s Election Audit has revealed that large-scale voting machines appear to count NON-EXISTING VOTES. State and local communities are seeking confirmation. It’s probably true, but we’ll soon know. Why aren’t Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans doing anything about what went on in the 2020 Election? How can the Democrats be allowed to get away with this,” former President Donald Trump said in a May 24 statement.
In an interview with CNN, Hursti stated that human error was more likely than fraud based on early assessments. “The original count, the recount, nothing has ever been changing who gets elected… If there would have been a widespread fraud, which would have been uncovered (in) this, it would have come out. There was none.” In other words, the four winning GOP candidates will maintain their posts.
While speaking to the Washington Examiner, Hursti said that the audit team did request data on other towns, but was unable to gain access. As to the question of whether other towns might have similar errors, Hursti said that there is “no evidence at this point in time.”
However, some citizens still feel that election discrepancies may have happened on a large scale. New Hampshire resident Albert Peel, who observed the audit, said that it was “extremely disturbing.” He stated, “I think that our forefathers did an awful lot to build a democracy, and without a voting system that is reliable and open and transparent, we don’t have anything.”
With reporting by Arvind Datta.