After a methodical manual recount of the Windham State Rep. paper ballots by the NH Secretary of State’s (SOS) office, it was discovered the reported number of votes for every Republican candidate on election night was short by nearly 300 votes, and Democrat candidate Kristi St. Laurent tallied 99 more votes than actually cast.
That changed the narrow margin of St. Laurent’s loss of 24 votes (.005%) to 420 votes (9.6%). A huge difference.
This led to outcries across the state, especially after the election shenanigans that took place across the country this past November. Many people have raised valid questions that are still unanswered.
How did that happen?
Was it the machines?
Was there fraud?
Where were the mistakes made?
Windham Election Moderator Betty Dunn has suggested the discrepancies between election night and the recount lie with the recount process. I respectfully disagree with Mrs. Dunn. We need to look at all possibilities, especially since the recount process was very transparent – and no one expressed concerns until after the results were tallied.
Below is an overview of the recount process that is now being questioned by Mrs. Dunn. This is long, but it provides a thorough explanation;
The recount process was explained to all participants.
Only recount officials were permitted to touch ballots.
Observers for all candidates were encouraged to voice concerns and/or objections at any time.
No pressure was ever placed on anyone to accept a questionable decision.
There were four recount tables
There were two recount officials at each recount table. Depending on the stage of the recount, these recount officials had different duties.
Two Republican and two Democrat observers were provided a seat at each table to oversee the process. They were encouraged to stop the recount at any point they had questions or concerns.
Two cameras at each table provided a clear view of the counting process to the observers; one camera showed the ballots that one recount official handled, and the other camera showed the tally sheets being marked as the second recount official counted the votes. The recount began by removing the ballots from boxes that were sealed since the night of the election.
Each table was given approximately 2,500 ballots (there were 10,006 ballots cast in Windham on Nov. 3.)
We were told that both recount officials at each table would sort all of the ballots into four separate groups
straight Republican ticket (all four Republican candidates received votes on the ballot)
straight Democrat ticket (all four Democrat candidates received votes on the ballot)
mixed ballot (at least one Republican and/or one Democrat received a vote)
blank ballots (no votes for any State Rep candidates)
We were told the pile of blank ballots would be put directly back into the ballot boxes and not be counted. Windham GOP Chair Philip Abirached was there and raised a concern that all ballots need to be counted. I agreed with him and a discussion ensued for about 10 minutes. I argued that the only way to ensure that ALL of the 10,006 ballots were in the room was to count every physical ballot. No one else voiced concerns. To our dismay, the blank ballots were not counted.
Everyone went to a recount table and the process began.
The pile of straight republican ballots was then counted by one recount official into piles of 25 ballots as each ballot was shown (one by one) via the camera to each observer. There were a few times when a wrong ballot was in the pile – and in those instances, it was moved to the appropriate pile of ballots to be counted.
Once a pile of 25 ballots was counted, it was handed off to the second recount official at the table to confirm the number of ballots added up to 25.
Each stack of 25 verified ballots was placed on top of each other – rotated by 90 degrees – to make it easy to add them up later.
During this process, there were several times an observer raised a question. Every time a question was raised, it was always addressed in a professional manner, and in a way that everyone agreed was fair and accurate. At no time was it confrontational.
There was never any pressure to continue until everyone was satisfied.
Once the process of sorting the straight Republican ticket ballots into stacks of 25 ballots was complete, the odd number of remaining ballots (less than 25) were counted and then written down next to each Republican candidate’s name on a tally sheet that was updated by the second recount official at each table.
The recount officials then took the stacks of 25 ballots and combined them into stacks of 100 ballots and again placed them on top of each other – rotated by 90 degrees – to make it easy to add them up later.
The recount officials then counted all stacks of 100 (plus any remaining stacks of 25) of the straight republican ballots and added the total next to each Republican candidate’s name on the tally sheet.
The counted ballots were then placed directly back into a ballot box.
The above process was repeated for the straight Democrat ticket ballots.
The last pile of mixed vote ballots was then tallied one by one, candidate by candidate.
One recount official placed the ballots under their camera and read off the names of each candidate who received a vote. One observer for each party watched this part of the process to ensure accuracy.
The second recount official would then tally a vote next to the candidate’s name who was called out. The other observers for each party watched this part of the process to ensure accuracy.
If a candidate’s vote tallies filled up their portion of the tally sheet, then a new tally sheet was started.
When ballots contained questionable marks, e.g. an oval for a particular candidate had an “X” through it, but no other filled in ovals on that ballot had an “X”, then a determination was made as to whether a vote should be challenged. Anyone could challenge a vote. All challenged votes were put aside for the Deputy Secretary of State to adjudicate.
Once all of the ballots were counted at a table, the vote totals for each candidate on each tally sheet were totaled.
Then the number of votes on each tally sheet was totaled for each candidate.
The tally sheets and the totals were provided to SOS Bill Gardner and Deputy SOS Dave Scanlon.
Upon all tables completing the recount process, I believe there were 15 challenged ballots that were adjudicated by the Deputy SOS with everyone watching. He explained his interpretation of each ballot and determined whether or not a vote should (or should not) be counted for a candidate. Valid votes were added to a tally sheet for final tabulations.
Anyone could challenge the Deputy SOS’s decision. I believe there were a total of 3 ballots that were marked as still being challenged.
Those challenged ballots could then be reviewed by the NH Ballot Commission if a second appeal was made by any of the candidates.
At the end of the recount process – and prior to the recounted votes being totaled – no one expressed any concerns. None.
The tally sheet totals for each table were transferred to a computer spreadsheet by state election officials and totaled. During this process, many people were standing directly behind them. This process was unbiased and transparent.
When it became clear that the vote totals were so far off for the Republican candidates as well as Mrs. St. Laurent, all of the tally sheets were reviewed, recounted, and rechecked to ensure they were entered correctly into the computer spreadsheet. When the results came back the same, different people got involved and rechecked the calculations multiple times, and arrived at the same results.
Shortly after the four Republican candidates were declared the winners, Mrs. Dunn raised concerns about the process.
The discrepancies in vote totals between election day and the recount have rightfully caused many people to be concerned, including the Windham Selectmen – who have asked multiple times for the AG to investigate. To their credit, both Betty Dunn and Peter Griffin (Windham Election Moderators) have also expressed concern and asked for an investigation. Unfortunately, it appears the AG’s office is dragging its feet.
But that shouldn’t stop us from taking control of the situation ourselves. The reasons for the discrepancies are still unknown and it long past time for answers.
I believe the blank ballots should have been counted during the recount as Phil Abirached and myself requested. This would have provided a cross-check to ensure that all 10,006 ballots (and only 10,006 ballots) from election night were in the room and counted. However, I also believe that the votes were accurately counted on all of the ballots that were reviewed during the recount. That is why we should begin our investigation in Windham. And the first step there should be to look at the Windham voting machines. I’ll touch upon that more in Part 3.