CONCORD, N.H. — A three-week forensic study in May of Windham's election results has confirmed the accuracy of a state recount of the Rockingham District 7 state representative race according to a report released from the Forensic Election Audit Team.

New Hampshire Secretary of State William M. Gardner and Attorney General John M. Formella received the report July 12. 

"This forensic audit addressed the unusual numerical disparity between the originally reported results for the November 2020 contest for New Hampshire State Representative in Rockingham County District 7 (the town of Windham) and the official hand recount results for that contest," the audit team reported. "The recount did not change the outcome of the election."

The audit came after Windham’s totals and those of a state recount of the District 7 state representative race showed big discrepancies.

Town vote counts during the Nov. 3 General Election gave the four Republican candidates the top tallies and the win, but only 24 votes originally separated GOP candidate Julius Soti from Democrat Kristi St. Laurent, who then requested the recount, held Nov. 12 of last year.

The state’s recount number gave the GOP candidates nearly 300 more votes each, but St. Laurent lost 99.

Gov. Chris Sununu then signed Senate Bill 43 allowing the audit to begin with leaders Mark Lindeman, Harri Hursti and Philip Stark taking the examination lead.

The audit started May 11 at the Edward Cross Training Center in Pembroke, a facility chosen for its secure location. The process was also live-streamed continuously on the state's Department of Justice site. 

Over the course of the three-week time frame, auditors did hand counts of Windham's 10,006 ballots cast Nov. 3, scanned documents, and paid attention to matching numbers, ballot batches, machine counts, analyzed the inner workings of Windham's four AccuVote machines and their memory cards and also kept careful watch over who among teams of town election officials and volunteers handled the ballots and other materials. 

Paper ballots were forensically reviewed using a microscope, micrometer, and UV light to determine whether they were genuine printed ballots, and whether any folds were manual or machine-made.

The team announced they discovered the primary root cause of the discrepancy to be folds through vote targets on some absentee ballots.

And that was attributed to the use of a leased folding machine.

"That folding machine, leased by the town for other purposes, did not fold ballots along the score lines between vote targets, where the ballots were designed to be folded," the report stated. "Instead, it often folded ballots through vote targets in the state representative contest, which the scanners interpreted as vote attempts a substantial fraction of the time."

The report said about 400 ballots could have been miscounted as a result of the folding machine and that auditors believed Windham election officials could not have anticipated the problem. 

Auditors added no malware was found on any of the tabulators and a forensic examination of a random sample of paper ballots revealed nothing significant about the paper, printing, or marking.

The team also concluded that there was no evidence of ballot boxes being "rigged" and had the audit audience unanimously pick a box of their choice for audit and then pick an additional box for examination.

Auditors credited Windham's election for being "well run under challenging circumstances" with discrepancies between election night totals and hand counts attributed to "unforeseen consequences and misfortune."

Hursti said during the May audit he expected it most likely took several factors in a “perfect storm” to have this kind of impact on vote totals. 

In the end, the team confirmed that “We found no basis to believe that the miscounts found in Windham indicate a pattern of partisan bias or a failed election,” and that, “All counts agree that Republicans swept Windham’s four seats in the state House of Representatives.”    

The Secretary of State's and Attorney General's offices are reviewing the report and will prepare a report of the results of the audit and any resulting recommendations. The Ballot Law Commission also received a copy of the report.

The state will not have an official response on the report until after the offices' joint report is submitted to the Legislature and Windham's Board of Selectmen.

The Forensic Election Audit Team's report can be found at www.doj.nh.gov/sb43/

InDepthNH's Thomas P. Caldwell contributed to this report.

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