The mere mention of the words “election audit” elicits a Pavlovian reaction among the media.
It’s the crazies, they say. The bitter clingers, the people who still think 2020 isn’t over. Pretty soon, there’s a mention of Jan. 6 — and how anyone who supports these audits probably thinks that strange man with face paint and horns who became the symbol of the Capitol incursion was a “patriot.” And thus, we’re off to the ad hominem races.
The same rhetoric gets trotted out when the Windham, New Hampshire, ballot audit is discussed — and yet, even the most liberal die-hard would have to concede the necessity for the audit, given machine vote count tallies and hand recounts in the small town produced dramatically different results.
Now, according to the auditors, a fold in the ballots themselves could be responsible for the discrepancies — and it’s an issue that could affect other vote-counting machines throughout the state.
According to a news release from the office of the New Hampshire Secretary of State, the recount began at the behest of Democrat candidate Kristi St. Laurent, the fifth-place finisher in the District 7 state representative race. All four of the candidates who won seats were Republicans, but machine tallies showed St. Laurent just 24 votes shy of the fourth-place finisher.
However, when Windham’s 10,000 ballots from November’s election were counted by hand, things got significantly worse for St. Laurent. Not only did she lose 99 votes, the four Republican candidates gained about 300 votes. (Other Democrats “each gained in the range of 18 to 28 votes which is not unusual in a recount of machine counted ballots in a town the size of Windham,” the news release state.)
For a town the size of Windham, that’s a massive discrepancy. On April 12, according to the Washington Examiner, New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed legislation that allowed an audit of the ballot machines and memory cards used in city in the November election. Auditors would also hand-count ballots for state representative, senator and governor to look at discrepancies.
Presidential votes, however, wouldn’t be looked at under the law.
— WMUR TV (@WMUR9) May 11, 2021
The audit began May 11 in neighboring Pembroke, New Hampshire. According to a May 17 MUR-TV report, auditors are zeroing in on the potential that a fold in the ballot could affect how the machine would tabulate it.
The fold effect is large enough to account for discrepancies, but might not be all that’s going on. 75 folded ballots voted straight Republican. Only 48 votes recorded for them. Folds generated overvotes. This is machine used on Election Day 4 most absentee ballots #NHPolitics pic.twitter.com/ykTm5t8pDG
— WindhamNHAuditors (@WAuditors) May 22, 2021
“Something we strongly suspect at this juncture, based on various evidence, is that in some cases, fold lines are being interpreted by the scanners as valid votes,” said auditor Mark Lindeman.
“Auditors said the scanners could be interpreting the fold lines as a vote when they go through a ‘vote target,’ or a candidate’s name on the ballot. They said a lot of Windham’s ballots appear to have fold lines across the target of a Democratic state representative candidate,” WMUR reported.
Thus, you have one explanation as to why there was a major discrepancy.
“Because if someone voted for all four Republican candidates and the ballot happened to have its fold line going through St. Laurent’s target, then that might be interpreted by the machines as an overvote, which would then subtract votes from each of those four Republican candidates,” auditor Philip Stark told WMUR.
“Conversely, if there were not four votes already in that contest by the voter, a fold line through that target could have caused the machine to interpret it as a vote for St. Laurent.”
Auditor Harry Hursti, however, has been tweeting that there appear to be deeper issues with the Windham machines. The AccuVote technology behind them — it’s worth noting — is owned by Dominion Voting Systems, according to a 2016 report by the Concord Monitor.
“To clarify: The work is not completed yet. While the folding seems to be a strong contributor it clearly is not the only factor. For example: We have observed vastly different error rates on two machines processing the same ballots,” he tweeted Sunday.
To clarify: The work is not completed yet. While the folding seems to be a strong contributor it clearly is not the only factor. For example: We have observed vastly different error rates on two machines processing the same ballots. Work continues. @WAuditors #ElectionSecurity
— Harri “scofield” Hursti (@HarriHursti) May 24, 2021
On Monday, Hursti tweeted that machine auditing would start.
Phase 4 out of 5 completed today. We have now completed all work with the ballots and the other election material. Tomorrow the machine audit will begin. Depending the findings, it may involve one more run of the test decks, but no more voted ballots. @WAuditors #ElectionSecurity
— Harri “scofield” Hursti (@HarriHursti) May 25, 2021
However, there were some damning findings from the auditors thus far, including one machine that counted only 28 percent of Republican votes:
— WindhamNHAuditors (@WAuditors) May 22, 2021
Gov. Sununu, meanwhile, eschewed claims — including some by former President Donald Trump — there were massive implications, especially involving fraud, behind the discrepancies.
“A discrepancy of 300 votes out of over 800,000 cast does not constitute ‘massive election fraud,’” Sununu said.
“In fact, it is proof that New Hampshire’s voting process is the most reliable, safe, and secure in the country and that we will ensure every last vote is accurately accounted for.”
Sununu is correct that nothing in this audit proved “massive election fraud.” The issues are specific to New Hampshire and there’s no evidence they involve fraud, per se.
But that doesn’t mean the implications of the New Hampshire developments aren’t troubling.
This is from the secretary of state’s news release: “A great deal of the speculation about the difference in vote totals centers around the AccuVote ballot counting devices used in New Hampshire elections. The AccuVote machines are the only ones approved for use by the NH Ballot Law Commission … and the last approval to upgrade the AccuVote was issued in 2010. The decision to use an AccuVote ballot counting device is made at the local level, and is usually made to reduce the resources needed to conduct a hand-count. The devices are tested by the city or town clerk immediately prior to an election to make sure they are working properly.”
That discrepancy Sununu talked about was in one town with 10,000 ballots. The unusually inaccurate ballot counts in Windham came from the AccuVote device, a machine last updated in 2010 and the only device approved for use in ballot counting in the state of New Hampshire … where those 800,000 votes were cast. Are we so confident about that 300 vote number?
At least there’s the mechanism to audit the vote totals, right? Only because Sununu intervened. Again, from the secretary of state’s news release: “The statutes do not permit more than one recount of the same office … and there is no statutory authority to conduct audits of the ballot counts after an election.”
It’s easy for some to extrapolate the audit results from one town to an entire nation, particularly with the presidential race. With the evidence we have, however, that’s nigh impossible.
Even at the state level, while the use of the AccuVote machines is troubling, you would have to assume these machines — or machines that made similar errors — were deployed across America. Furthermore, these fold errors — which, given that ballots are set up differently in different jurisdictions, would mean the fold errors would affect candidates randomly — that all tended to skew one way in such dramatic fashion that it changed the results in numerous states.
Without the element of agency on a massive scale — which, again, no one has proved — the statistical likelihood of that is roughly nil. That doesn’t mean, however, that Gov. Sununu’s claim “that New Hampshire’s voting process is the most reliable, safe, and secure in the country” isn’t rubbish.
America has a broken election system. Yet, when conservatives demand a closer look at it, they’re branded as Trump truthers. They want to deny minorities the right to vote. They’re in league with every Capitol rioter. You’ve heard it all.
Behind all that rhetoric are two visions about how our elections should be run.
The right believes a shambles like 2020 should never happen again and that our system’s been broken long enough that it’s a shock something like 2020 didn’t happen before this, really. Liberals, meanwhile, believe 2020 went swimmingly — and can we have some more of that, please?
Windham, New Hampshire isn’t about clinging to a lie. It’s about acknowledging our damaged electoral system needs transparency and integrity. Without thjat, Windham could be any town in America.
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