As the Windham forensic audit winds down, the question arises of why the rerun of the machine count results during the audit tended to match more closely those found by the Secretary of State during his hand recount than the results from the same machines in November. In fact, the question of why the discrepancy appeared in the first place remains to be answered by the forensic team. They will complete their forensic audit next week by examining the electronic code in each of the machines and memory cards used during the election and the audit.
However, I believe the explanation for the discrepancy will relate to the issue of perceived over-votes. An over-vote is defined as voting for more than the allowed number of candidates for a particular office. In the case of an over-vote, none of the candidates for that office on that ballot is awarded a vote. This is most problematic in races where there are multiple seats for a single office, such as state representative.
If one listened to the testimony of HB 491, one would have heard claims that creases on folded absentee ballots could be read by the voting machine as a vote, making it appear that the voter voted for more than the allowed number of candidates in a particular race.
The auditors have flagged a number of ballots in which the crease fell across the bubble next to Kristi St.Laurent’s name. For multi-seat state representative races, the bubbles for each of the candidates, either Republican or Democrat, are offset (i.e. not in a straight line). The reason is that in years past, there was concern that if the bubbles were in a straight horizontal line, the voter may believe they have to pick only one candidate from each line. So they offset the bubbles so the voter feels comfortable voting, for example, for the first candidate in each party list. Click Here to see a sample ballot.
Why Does A Crease Matter?
The crease across St.Laurent’s bubble leads to three interesting possibilities. The voter can vote straight Republican; vote straight Democratic; or skip the race entirely. Of course some could also split their votes between Republicans and Democrats, but if they vote for any four candidates but not St.Laurent, the crease will cause an over-vote.
So let’s say they vote for the 4 Republican candidates and the crease votes for St.Laurent. The result is an over-vote, and no one is awarded a vote.
Now let’s say they vote for the 4 Democrats and the crease votes for St.Laurent. Well that’s still only 4 votes, and all four Democrats are awarded a vote.
Now let’s say they don’t vote for any state representative candidates. The crease votes for St.Laurent, and she is awarded a vote.
The result is that the Republican votes are under counted and St.Laurent’s votes are over counted. There is little affect on the other three Democratic candidates.
Creases Not A Factor in Recount
So why has the forensic audit machine counts matched more closely with the Secretary of State hand count than with the election night machine count. Well, on Election Day, the absentee ballot is removed from the envelope, unfolded, and then fed into the voting machine. At the end of the night all the ballots are stored flat in boxes with as many ballots as possible put in each box. Over time, the weight of the other ballots will flatten out the creases, and they will not be detected by the machine as a vote.
Why Didn’t This Happen in Other Towns or Other Races?
Some ask, why didn’t this happen in other towns? Well, it probably did, but since no recount was requested, it went unnoticed as it has for years.
Are you wondering if there was another race impacted by the crease. Well, you are right to wonder, and there was. It was the Governor’s race.
There were also creases through the Governor’s race. However, since the bubbles were all in a line, the crease would negate the vote no matter which candidate was selected. However, since there were significantly more democratic absentee ballots cast than republican and independent put together, Feltes would have been under counted statewide. However because Sununu won by such a large margin, it would likely not have been enough to change the ultimate outcome.
However, in the U S Senate race in 2016, Maggie Hassan won by approximately 1000 votes. If a small town like Windham could generate a 300-vote discrepancy, the entire state could easily generate a 1000-vote discrepancy. Now is the time to correct this problem.
HB 491 would require the Secretary of State to instruct LHS, the group that programs all NH memory cards, to program NH voting machines to return perceived over-votes for correction. LHS already programs voting machines in Massachusetts and Vermont to do just that. However, our Secretary of State has objected to this programming change saying it would embarrass the voter to have their ballot returned for correction.
Well, first of all, the crease is an issue on absentee ballots, meaning the voter is not there to be embarrassed, The ballot would simply be set aside to be hand counted.
Actually, HB 491 will also clean up issues with people crossing out a vote when they change their mind and filling in a second bubble. Or they might vote for their candidate and also writing in the same candidate as a write-in, or any other creative way of indicating their vote.
HB 491 was retained by the House Election Law Committee. You might want to write the committee chair and ask her to resurrect this bill and get it passed to stop this easily solvable problem.