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Voting machines, ballots arrive for New Hampshire audit

May 11, 2021 GMT
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A clerk with the N.H. department of state unloads boxes of ballots are unpacked after arriving from the state archives at a forensic audit of a New Hampshire legislative election. May 11, 2021, in Pembroke, N.H., before he was N.H. State Trooper asked him to move away from the building. The audit, which will be live streamed from the Edward Cross Training Center, in Pembroke, is to review the November 2020 Windham, N.H., election for four state legislative seats. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)
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A clerk with the N.H. department of state unloads boxes of ballots are unpacked after arriving from the state archives at a forensic audit of a New Hampshire legislative election. May 11, 2021, in Pembroke, N.H., before he was N.H. State Trooper asked him to move away from the building. The audit, which will be live streamed from the Edward Cross Training Center, in Pembroke, is to review the November 2020 Windham, N.H., election for four state legislative seats. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The audit of a controversial legislative election in New Hampshire began Tuesday with the voting machines and boxes of ballots arriving at the site where they’ll be reviewed.

A team of three auditors has until May 27 by law to complete their work on 2020 election results from four state House seats in the town of Windham. The entire process at the Edward Cross Training Center in Pembroke is being livestreamed.

Though Republicans won all four seats, a recount requested by a losing Democratic candidate showed the Republicans had received hundreds more votes than were originally counted.

Kristi St. Laurent requested the recount after falling 24 votes short in the November election. She expected to gain a few votes, but the recount showed four Republicans each received an additional 300 votes, and Laurent lost 99.

Conservatives questioning election integrity on a broader scale pointed to it as a potential local example of problems, and the discrepancy was big enough to prompt bipartisan support from lawmakers to authorize the audit of the town’s ballot counting machines and hand tabulations.

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No matter the audit findings, the results won’t change.

“In this case, I’m more confident than usual that we can have a good conclusive explanation,” said Harri Hursti, one of the auditors. “We don’t know where the investigation is going. ... Seeing the evidence, we might find something we didn’t even know existed. Then, we have to follow that track.”

As a few dozen masked observers silently looked on, state troopers wheeled four plastic containers with the voting machines into the meeting room where the audit is being conducted.

There was a heavy security presence at the building entrance but no sign of protests. One unidentified Windham resident was questioned by state troopers after taking photos through a window of the audit room.

Auditors on Wednesday will begin the process by opening the 26 boxes of ballots and reviewing them all. Over the coming days, they will put the ballots through the four machines to get four counts. That will be compared to a hand count.

Once the work is complete, auditors will have 45 days to issue a report with their findings.

Lawmakers had overwhelmingly passed a bill authorizing the audit. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed the bill in April and insisted that “New Hampshire elections are safe, secure, and reliable.”

Conservative media outlets and supporters of former President Donald Trump saw things differently. They viewed the results in Windham, a town of 16,000 near the Massachusetts border, as a chance to prove something more nefarious was amiss — the idea that if things were suspicious in Windham, maybe they were across the state and beyond as well.

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Last week, Trump issued a statement congratulating “the great Patriots” in Windham “for their incredible fight to seek out the truth” about fraud that he alleged, without evidence, had affected the New Hampshire races and his own reelection contest.

Trump had been to Windham in the past and is fond of claiming voter fraud is rampant in the Granite State. In 2017, Trump alleged that he and former Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte would have won in New Hampshire the previous year if not for voters bused in from out of state. There is no evidence to support that claim.

Ken Eyring, a Windsor resident who writes software for a living, filed a lawsuit asking that the audit be halted. Eyring argued that once the vote counting machines are turned on, data from the November 2020 election would no longer be preserved. A Rockingham County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that Eyring had no hard evidence to prove his case or that the state wouldn’t be able to conduct the audit properly.