The New Hampshire Ballot Law Commission has upheld victory for Windham Republican Julius Soti, who beat Democrat Kristi St. Laurent by 24 votes in the race for state representative.
The commission did, however, ask the Attorney General’s Office to look into the case, which left veteran election officials scratching their heads.
While there were no allegations of fraud or wrongdoing in the race, questions remained why St. Laurent lost 99 votes in the recount while the four Republicans in the eight-way race gained 300 votes each, and why the other three losing Democrats also gained some votes.
Neither Secretary of State Bill Gardner nor Ballot Law Commission Chairman Brad Cook could explain what happened, but said it would be up to the Attorney General’s Office to investigate. They agreed an investigation wouldn’t change the outcome of the race between St. Laurent and Soti.
But the numbers perplexed them both.
Cook said he suspected something was wrong with a ballot-counting machine.
“They’ll get a forensic person or the machine company to see if it was working,” Cook said of the machine.
St. Laurent’s attorney Paul Twomey said, “In the end, I declare victory although they ruled against my client. They asked the Attorney General to investigate the machines” and the discrepancy in votes.
Although the chances are very slim, Twomey said he thinks depending on what the investigation shows, there could be an avenue to victory for St. Laurent in the Republican stronghold. The top vote-getters in the race were four Republicans and St. Laurent was the top vote-getter among the four Democrats who ran.
In a letter of complaint, St. Laurent said there appeared to be only two rational explanations – “either the machines were programmed to reflect unwarranted adjustments in multiples of 100 to the totals of all Republican candidates and the top vote receiver among the Democrats or a significant number of ballots were double-counted during the voting process.” She added that double-counting wouldn’t explain why her votes dropped by 99 in the recount.
“If the machines were incorrectly programmed it is imperative to know whether this was a localized program or a systemic threat to the integrity of the election results as reported,” St. Laurent wrote.
The four machines in Windham are from the AccuVote 0s system, as are all voting machines in New Hampshire. They are the only ones approved by the state Ballot Law Commission.
If the machines didn’t malfunction, that leads to the conclusion that the hand count was marred by duplicate counting, St. Laurent said.
Gardner said this was an unusual case because St. Laurent didn’t ask the commission to review any challenged ballots. The Ballot Law Commission doesn’t have the authority to order a second recount.
This election is over, Gardner said. He said he wasn’t sure how the Attorney General’s Office would handle the investigation, but was pleased the office is involved.
“They can look into the memory card on the machine to see whether there was any malfunction with the machines,” Gardner said.