Outside a nondescript building, guarded 24/7 by state troopers, the leaders of Windham’s election audit field questions on the type of tape they’re using to seal boxes, why the livestream briefly failed and whether any ballot boxes have gone missing.
Unlike audits of 2020 election results that have popped up in Arizona and Georgia, New Hampshire’s audit arose from a tangible gap in vote tallies in a race for state representative. Auditors have said their early assessment reveals no sign of fraud and instead points to human errors that they don’t believe are pervasive statewide.
Even so, the bipartisan audit has become a flashpoint in this small town. And some conservatives are clinging to claims that the issue in Windham could point to broader election integrity problems throughout New Hampshire or even beyond.
Harri Hursti, an expert in electronic voting security and part of the three-man team leading the audit, said he’s been surprised at the level of “malicious misinformation” swirling around the audit.
“I’m a little bit surprised at the level of confusion and the level of deliberate trolling,” Hursti said. “The level of this is more than I expected. Nevertheless, we have to get the truth out. We have to make sure that people have the facts.”
While the Windham audit wraps up this week, the 2020 election conspiracy theories are sure to persist. Among those amplifying them: former President Donald Trump and his allies. In a statement Monday night, Trump seized on the errors auditors are uncovering in New Hampshire and then claimed – without any supporting evidence – that Democrats were somehow behind it.
“Why aren’t Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans doing anything about what went on in the 2020 Election? How can the Democrats be allowed to get away with this?” Trump said.
Trump’s longtime political ally Corey Lewandowski, who lives in Windham, has also seized on the audit as evidence that there are voter discrepancies elsewhere.
“This isn’t just about the town of Windham,” Lewandowski said at an event flanked by conservatives who are pushing for an even broader audit in New Hampshire. “We’re seeing things take place across this entire country.”
There’s no indication that the presidential tallies were miscounted, and Trump’s race is not being audited here. He lost the state by nearly 60,000 votes and – even if Trump had managed to turn his fortunes around – New Hampshire’s four electoral votes would not have been enough to land him back in the Oval Office.
A raucous town meeting
New Hampshire’s audit saga began after a candidate for state representative, Kristi St. Laurent, narrowly lost her race and requested a recount last November. The results puzzled election officials. St. Laurent’s vote total fell by 99, while the four Republicans who had won the state representative seats saw theirs rise by roughly 300 votes.
“Pretty much the whole room was shocked,” St. Laurent told CNN.
That kicked off an effort in the state legislature to authorize an audit in Windham. The measure passed on a bipartisan basis and was signed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.
But when it came time to choose the auditors, partisan tensions broke out.
A town meeting in early May drew hundreds of attendees. Many of them booed the town leaders, turned their backs on them and chanted, “Resign.”
The outcry came because the local Board of Selectmen had chosen auditor Mark Lindeman as part of the three-man team leading the audit. Lindeman, an audit expert, has been critical of Arizona’s GOP-led and opaquely operated ballot review. Many of the conservative attendees believed that should disqualify him from participating in the New Hampshire audit.
“I gotta tell you that the people were pretty riled up,” said Tom Murray, a local conservative who pushed for an audit.
Bruce Breton was the lone member of the Board of Selectmen to push for an alternative auditor. He advocated choosing Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, who claims to have invented technology to identify counterfeit ballots.
‘Conspiracy of coincidences’
Eventually the forensic audit got underway earlier this month, led by Hursti, Lindeman and Philip Stark, a statistics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Unlike the shadowy effort underway in Arizona – which has been criticized even by some Republicans for its lack of transparency and unclear audit methods – the New Hampshire auditors said they aimed to make their process as transparent as possible. They set up an independent livestream and the count is open to outside observers as well as the media. Auditors often stop throughout the day to field questions from observers and the press alike.
While the auditors plan to write a report on their findings, their early assessment points to a confluence of errors.
“I would say this is a perfect storm,” Hursti said. “This is a conspiracy of coincidences.”
Auditors and their conservative critics seem to agree on one issue skewing the count: Improperly folded ballots that led the machines to think a ballot bubble was shaded, when it was actually a blank bubble with a crease running through it.
Hursti said auditors have looked at the results for two additional races as well and, so far, there’s no indication the ballot issue in Windham’s roughly 10,000-vote election impacted races beyond the one for state representative. But the audit team still has plans to research whether this could have impacted any other New Hampshire towns.
“Right now, we are still gathering evidence, was this happening anywhere else in New Hampshire,” Hursti said. “We need to know that.”
Hursti noted that, even with the issues that were uncovered in Windham, none of the recounts or post-election analyses have upended who won the election in town.
“The original count, the recount, nothing has ever been changing who gets elected,” Hursti said. “This is an exercise of finding what caused the error, but the four winners have all – from day one – remained to be the same four winners. This has never threatened that. And, again, if there would have been a widespread fraud, which would have been uncovered (in) this, it would have come out. There was none.”
But after watching the audit play out, some conservative activists still aren’t satisfied. Murray and Ken Eyring, another local conservative activist who advocated for an audit, said they still believe there could have been election fraud, counter to the early conclusions from the auditors. They also said they’re not ruling out the possibility that the presidential race might have been impacted, even though vote counts and the forensic audit have not turned up any evidence to support that.
Both men claim there have been chain of custody questions about the voting machines, they’ve raised questions about missing ballot boxes and – despite the livestream and outside observer access – they say the process has not been transparent enough.
“There’s a lot of questions that are unanswered. There’s very close to zero transparency,” Eyring said.
Hursti, who said he has spent hours repeatedly fielding the same questions, said the so-called missing ballot boxes were actually boxes of records, not ballots. He said they have looked into chain of custody concerns and determined the law was followed. And he apologized for the livestream dropping out one evening but insisted they had gone to lengths to ensure the building had remained secure.
“We went through all the access logs, all the key card logs, we did a reinspection of the seals,” Hursti said. “We did everything we can to further mitigate the public perception that there was a possibility of something happen(ing).”
A push for yet another audit
Republicans in town are already insisting that a wider audit is needed to restore voters’ faith in their elections, a mantra nationwide for conservatives who have looked to impose new voter restrictions or conduct 2020 election postmortems.
“It’s never going to be ending unless we got a confirmed answer and a sure thing,” said Breton, a longtime Trump supporter who is close friends with Lewandowski. “I would like to see another town run their ballots and see if they have the same problem as Windham.”
Eyring said he would like to see a full statewide audit, even if that means pushing the state legislature to subpoena election materials similar to what was done in Arizona.
“I already know, multiple people who are going to be looking at that,” Eyring said. “If we can’t have confidence in our votes, then we really don’t know that the people serving in government are the ones that were truly elected.”
Trump’s allies have already made clear they would like to see a New Hampshire audit focused on the presidential race, even though an audit wouldn’t overturn the statewide election results that showed Trump lost New Hampshire by more than 7 points.
“If we’re here to count every single vote, that every vote matters, how come we’re not recounting the presidential race in this election?” Lewandowski said at the event.
As for Trump, he has remained fascinated by Windham’s proceedings and has been checking in weekly – sometimes daily – for audit updates, Breton said.