Taking part in the Windham forensic election audit

Sherry Farrell

This week I had the honor of being selected as a volunteer election official to assist with conducting the audit on the Windham, Nov. 3 general election.

I’m sure you probably heard all about it, or something about it over the last couple months. I keep having to correct myself because I keep calling it an election recount, when the proper wording for this is an election audit.

According to Verified Voting and other sources on Google, a recount is conducted in response to an election race that is considered to be very close or that could be in question. A candidate might doubt they really lost, if they only did by a few votes. I can’t blame them I would wonder, too.

A recount can also be requested to double check warrant articles that lost by a small margin of votes. A recount usually implies that someone is questioning the election itself — was it fair or fraudulent or was there just a human error that caused an unexpected result?

A recount can be called on any election as long as the RSAs and other rules are properly adhered to. The recount must be requested in writing before 5 p.m. on the Friday following the election in question.

Who pays for it? That’s a bigger question. If the person requesting it turns out to be right and they should have won, the state or town will pay the cost which can be huge. If not, the person or party requesting it will be held financially responsible.

We had a recount a few years back because Keno lost in our town election by just a few votes. The recount proved our numbers were accurate. When it is a small margin though things like write-ins, over and under votes, and very odd markings on the ballot can in very small circumstances come into play.

Now an audit is conducted for a different reason. An audit should be completed routinely just as checks and balances after an election happens. We’ve talked about it in our state as maybe just picking one town or city randomly to see how they are doing.

They do this in a few other states and it's really not a bad idea. It doesn’t single anyone or town out. It’s just a good checks and balances for everyone to learn from.

That’s what we have to be so careful of here — these are teachable moments, and an opportunity for us to learn and gain information to improve our processes. Sadly, there will always be that small group that will always be looking for that “gotcha” moment and, dear goodness, we can’t forget the conspiracy theorists, too.

The "gotchas" and conspiracy groups should make a pledge to volunteer to work an election so that they can really learn and understand the process that takes place. As with so many things, once we have actually experienced a task, we have a true understanding of what it is about. 

I had no idea how our elections were run and how transparent and fair they are in New Hampshire until I became a town clerk. I promise you with all my heart that in New Hampshire we do it right! I am proud and honored to be an election official in our great state! Our elections are fair, transparent, and every vote counts. You have my word!

I wondered why we had to call this next step a forensic audit. It sounds scary! From what I can tell, the word forensic was used to stress how important and serious this process is. It’s saying we are all in this together and that getting to the bottom of what happened is a top priority. This sounds nutty, but some sources say we could compare it to a medical autopsy. Some believe there could be suspicious circumstances, so the finest experts and techniques are brought in to put everyone’s minds at ease. What a tough role these experts are asked to play.

From a distance, I have had an election expert idol or role model. I know him but I never thought in my wildest dreams I would have an opportunity to work with such an election mind, such an election expert. His name is renown in election law: Harri Hursti. Mr. Hursti has spent the last 15 years trying to find all the possible weaknesses in our American election process. Not to say I “gotcha,” but to help us protect the United States and our right and honor to know that in our country every vote counts. Harri’s fear is that our greatest strengths in our elections and making sure that everyone can register to vote and cast their vote could become our greatest vulnerable weakness for hacking and possible cyber attacks from around the world.

Harri, along with other election experts have the tough job of determining why the recount turned out differently than the original election night totals. Dan Healey, our Derry Town Clerk, Joan Dargie of Milford, our moderator Jonathan Kipp, and many other good people are volunteering their time to be there to help solve this puzzle.

A typical day involved with this audit starts at 9 a.m. and might end by 7 p.m.. No breaks are taken, except for a 45-minute lunch period. You stand the entire time. Every move you make is livestreamed, and there are cameras and microphones all around. It is a fascinating process to be a part of.

Everyone is working and learning together. It’s the only we can succeed at anything good and right.

Sherry Farrell is the Londonderry Town Clerk and a longtime resident of New Hampshire.

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