Auditors concluded that miscounts in a New Hampshire election were primarily caused by the way ballots were folded, according to a report released Tuesday.
The audit, mandated by the legislature, was called by lawmakers from both parties after a losing Democratic candidate in a legislative race in the town of Windham requested a recount. That recount showed Republican candidates getting hundreds more votes than were originally counted.
The discrepancy drew the attention of former President Donald Trump and his supporters in their effort to find evidence of his wider claim of election fraud from 2020. Critics of the audit said before the report was finalized they felt it had not gone far enough to find the source of the miscount.
“I still have a lot of questions that have to be answered. I still have questions in my mind about the folds and a couple of other items,” Bruce Breton, a member of the Windham Board of Selectmen, said. “Are the folds the real reason for the miscount?”
A team of auditors, however, “found no basis to believe that the miscounts found in Windham indicate a pattern of partisan bias or a failed election.”
“Fundamentally, the large discrepancy between election night totals and both hand counts in the State Representative contest in Windham can be attributed to unforeseen consequences and misfortune,” the auditors Harri Hursti, Mark Lindeman and Philip Stark wrote. “Harried election officials borrowed a folding machine to send out thousands of absentee ballots more quickly, and votes on roughly 400 ballots were miscounted as a result.”
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 Democrat’s name, the ballot was either not counted or a vote was wrongly given to the Democrat.
Auditors said the problem was most likely limited to Windham, a claim echoed by Secretary of State Bill Gardner. 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.
“It is not impossible that folds affected the outcome of some contest in the 400-seat New Hampshire House of Representatives, but we can conclude that Windham was not the tip of a massive miscount iceberg,” the auditors wrote. “Nonetheless, people’s votes must be counted accurately, so procedural reforms are warranted.”
Gardner has overseen 549 recounts in his 44 years as secretary of state, including 16 after the November elections. Those recounts involved 168,000 ballots — 22 percent of the total cast statewide — and 65 polling places.
The audit makes a series of recommendations including not folding ballots in the future, instructing election officials to fold ballots correctly, checking folds when opening absentee ballots, adding process controls that ensure all absentee ballots are counted and improving machine maintenance.
The Secretary of State’s and Attorney General’s offices received a copy of the report Monday. They will prepare their own report on the audit and any resulting recommendations.
Story by Michael Casey, Associated Press