Auditors investigating a controversial New Hampshire election believe a machine used by the town of Windham to accommodate the numbers of absentee ballots is responsible for mistakenly adding to vote counts for Democratic candidates in four legislative races.
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.
“We found no evidence of fraud or political bias,” Mark Lindeman, one of the three auditors and the acting co-director of Verified Voting, a nonpartisan organization, said.
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The audit, mandated by the state Legislature and started earlier this month, was set to finish Thursday and has drawn the attention of former President Donald Trump.
It was called by lawmakers from both parties after a recount requested by a losing Democratic candidate showed Republicans getting hundreds more votes than were originally counted.
No matter the audit findings, the results of the election won’t change.
Kristi St. Laurent, the losing Democratic candidate who requested the recount, was watching the audit wrap up Thursday at the Edward Cross Training Center in Pembroke.
She was satisfied with the audit and was counting on either the Legislature or the secretary of state to take action to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again.
“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,” she said.
But not everyone was convinced the audit would find the reason for the discrepancy in the counts or that auditors had done enough to look at fraud or other factors.
“I wish it wasn’t ending. There is still a lot more work that needs to be done. If you are going to turn over every rock and look at every possibility, there is a lot of evidence that hasn’t been looked at,” said Tom Murray, a contractor from Windham who was watching the audit.
He said he has “less faith in the integrity of the system now than I did before this audit started.”
Auditors must issue a final report within 45 days and Lindeman said that would include a series of recommendations. But he doubts the findings will have relevance beyond Windham.
“We have no reason to think that it’s a statewide or national issue, although it’s certainly possible that it occurred in other localities,” he said.
It’s unknown how many other communities use a folding machine like the one Windham did.