CONCORD — Top state prosecutors and election officials have asked Windham town officials for extensive information in their effort to account for a major discrepancy between ballots optically scanned on Election Day and those in a hand recount.
But Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Chong Yen and Assistant Secretary of State Orville “Bud” Fitch said their offices, along with the Ballot Law Commission, have no authority to order an audit or, as town officials have asked for, a “re-canvass” of the ballots.
“There is no statutory authority for the Attorney General’s Office to conduct an audit of the ballot counting devices where there is no basis to suspect an election law violation,” they wrote.
Three weeks after the Nov. 3 election, the Ballot Law Commission upheld the victory of Republican candidate Julius Soti over Democrat Kristi St. Laurent for the fourth and final seat representing Windham in the House of Representatives.
After the recount, Soti won by 424 votes. Town election officials previously reported that Soti had won by 24 votes. St. Laurent had requested the recount.
The recount uncovered about 300 more votes for all four House Republican candidates.
St. Laurent’s total dropped by 99 votes. The three Democratic candidates who finished behind her each gained 20 to 28 votes after the recount.
The Ballot Law Commission unanimously agreed to have Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald’s office check the accuracy of the voting machines in the town of Windham, but it also declared there was no evidence of voter fraud.
Secretary of State Bill Gardner said a 400-vote difference in any race for a legislative seat was unusual.
In their letter, Yen and Fitch asked the town to spell out how it managed the ballot counting devices, to describe the vote counting process, to provide result tapes for the machines and to preserve all primary and backup memory cards.
“We understand that we are requesting a significant amount of information and appreciate your cooperation in providing it so that we can respond to our review of your process,” they wrote.
Yen said town officials have provided much of the information requested in the letter. He has declined to call this query an “investigation.” Many critics have noted that for the past 10 years, Dominion Voting Systems has had control over the AccuVote machines New Hampshire has used for decades.
Yen and Fitch noted those machines have been the subject of fewer complaints.
“Many of the concerns raised in emails after the election related to the ballot counting devices currently in the news in other states. Those devices are different than the ones used in New Hampshire, wrote Yen and Fitch. “The AccuVote optical scanner used in New Hampshire is older technology.”
As a result of a 2010 antitrust settlement, Dominion took control of the technology that New Hampshire uses.
”The device was originally manufactured by Unisys, then by Global Elections Systems Inc., which are no longer in business,” Yen and Fitch said. “The device used in New Hampshire is no longer being manufactured. Dominion (Voting Systems) owns the intellectual property of the AccuVote and its related election management system but does not manufacture the device.”
Dominion control raises controversy
On Nov. 3, 10,006 people voted in Windham.
In that election, 4,038 voted for all four Republican candidates for House seats in Windham, and 2,447 cast ballots for all four Democratic candidates.
The other 3,521 who cast ballots chose fewer than four candidates or picked candidates from both parties, according to state officials.
Both the House of Representatives and state Senate are considering bills to provide more vote count verification.
Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn, has proposed a bill (HB 480) allowing the public to request and receive a review of all the ballots once a recount has ended to “ensure accuracy of the vote count and evaluate the performance of election officials.”
Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester, has inserted into an omnibus bill on election procedures (SB 89) the creation of a study into vote counting machines.
”The committee shall determine what ballot counting equipment is available which would support a post election audit in New Hampshire, and shall study the feasibility, time constraints, and cost of conducting a post election audit using any vote counting equipment identified,” the bill states.
“The committee may use ballots cast in prior elections to test ballot counting equipment, provided that such use is in conjunction with the secretary of state and with the approval of the ballot law commission.”
Neither bill has been scheduled for a public hearing.