On Saturday, two of the three auditors performing the forensic audit in Windham, NH, confirmed that, while not the only issue, ballot folds significantly affect how ballots are read by the town’s Diebold ES2000 Model A voting machines. Additionally, while processing the same ballots, the auditors witnessed vastly different error rates on two of the machines.

The auditors indicated early last week fold lines might be an issue. They spent Saturday recreating two separate mock elections hoping to determine what caused the unprecedented discrepancies between the Nov. 3 election result totals and the Nov. 12 election recount totals. Focused on the percentage of possible errors due to ballot folding, Harri Hursti and Phillip Stark explained to Nick Moseder and Lisa Mazur (see the interview in the video below) that they set up two sets of mock elections, each designed to try and determine how votes were taken away from Republican candidates and how votes were added to Kristi St. Laurent.  

One potential theory suggested the machines might reject specific ballots (for example, ballots that voted straight Republican down the line for all four candidates) and count the entire ballot as an overvote. This scenario might occur if, after voting for the four Republican candidates, the machine then reads the ballot fold (which appears next on the ballot and occurs right at St. Laurent’s name) as a vote for a fifth—and extra—candidate. In the case of an overvote, all votes on the ballot are canceled and reported as blanks.

Indeed, upon completing their experiment, the auditors explained that they discovered Windham’s machines were reading the fold as they speculated, with, according to Phillip Stark, an astonishing error rate ranging from 25% up to 72%.

While talking with Moseder, Hursti revealed that before the Nov. 3 election, individuals with decision-making powers were aware of the potential problems that ballot folding could present in voting machines. Still, according to Hursti, in an effort to save money, the decision was made that “less expensive envelopes should be used,” which meant ballots would need to be folded before being mailed. Noting that no one expected the fold to cause this much trouble, Hursti added, “but folds cause trouble elsewhere,” too.

Hursti did not acknowledge who in NH was aware of the potential ballot folding issue when pressed to elaborate. Instead, he continued discussing ballot folding, stating the improper folding (by the machine) was something he had not seen before and could be a maintenance issue, stating, “if you look at the manual, there is instruction where the folding format has to be placed. If the folding had been done along those lines, none of this would have happened.” 

Remarking there is still much more to be examined, Stark confirmed that Saturday’s tests offer an explanation for both the subtraction of votes from the Republican candidates and the initial addition of votes to Democratic candidate Kristi St. Laurent.

Last week, Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan announced his office was taking a wait-and-see approach to the possibility that fold lines in absentee ballots may have caused voting machines to misread the totals in Windham’s election. With confirmation from Hursti and Stark that fold lines are a definite issue in Windham, there is speculation the problem is widespread in the state. Phillip Stark commented last week:

“Throughout New Hampshire, you’re using the same voting machines, the AccuVote, and in principle, it could be an issue. It really depends where the folds are in relationship to the vote targets.”

Saturday, May 22, Jeff Silvestro (LHS) back at the audit chatting with Kristi St. Laurent. Facebook / Lisa Mazur

Present at the audit again on Saturday, LHS Associates President Jeff Silvestro departed in a hurry when Nick Moseder approached him to ask why he was there, saying as he hurried out the door, “ask the auditors, they are the ones who asked me here. Leave me alone. I would appreciate it.” Recently, when asked whether Silvestro’s attendance at the audit was a conflict of interest, Richard (Dick) Tracy of the NH Attorney General’s Office replied, “just because it’s a conflict of interest doesn’t make it illegal.” Hursti, when asked about Silvestro’s presence on Saturday, responded:

“… the same reason as every other time… if we have [sic] come up and we need to know that we follow the right procedures. We have not allowed him inside of the wires, so… he has all the time stayed outside the wire.”

Over 350 election integrity advocates attended Saturday’s official launch of the Government Integrity Project in Windham, NH. Facebook / Bao Chau Kelley

Typically, each audit day is full of election integrity advocates observing the day’s proceedings. However, as previously reported last Thursday, auditor Philip Stark announced that the scheduled audit day for the weekend had changed from Sunday, May 23 to Saturday, May 22, the same day as the heavily promoted “official launch” of the Government Integrity Project, leaving many to question the motive behind the sudden change. 

As dictated by SB43, the audit must be concluded by May 27. The much anticipated forensic audit of the machines is next on the agenda as the final week gets underway.