How Trumpists Are Trying to Hijack a Small-Town New Hampshire Ballot Audit

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Michael Casey/AP
Michael Casey/AP

As a controversial Republican audit of the 2020 election in Arizona blows through its deadlines and takes on byzantine twists—including the examination of 2.1 million ballots for bamboo fibers in an attempt to prove they were manufactured in Asia—Donald Trump allies elsewhere want in on the action.

Now the fight over election audits performed exactly how Trump supporters want them has moved from Arizona to the small New Hampshire town of Windham, where a previously little-watched audit of a state representative race has drawn in both right-wing media and the former president and set off a raucous protest at a town council meeting.

Every twist in the Windham audit has been chronicled on right-wing websites like The Gateway Pundit and pro-Trump cable channel One America News. On Thursday, Trump congratulated Windham’s “Patriot” residents on his new blog, commending their “incredible fight to seek out the truth on the massive Election Fraud which took place in New Hampshire and the 2020 Presidential Election.”

“He’s watching Windham, New Hampshire,” Trump adviser Jason Miller said Friday on Newsmax TV. “These are things he’s paying a lot of attention to.”

Unlike voters nearly everywhere else in the country, the roughly 14,000 residents of Windham, New Hampshire, actually do have reasons to have questions about what happened in one of their November elections: an eight-way race for four state representative seats.

After the four Republican candidates in the race won the seats, the fifth-place candidate, Democratic candidate Kristi St. Laurent, who lost by just 24 votes, requested a recount. When the votes were counted again, though, St. Laurent’s total dropped by 99 votes, while each Republican candidate gained about 300 votes.

An audit to investigate what created that discrepancy in the Windham race’s ballot count won bipartisan support in the New Hampshire statehouse, with Gov. Chris Sununu (R) signing a bill in April that backed a forensic audit.

The audit is meant to only settle questions about the state representative race, but Trump supporters from across the country have seen the Windham audit as a chance to raise questions about the accuracy of voting machines more broadly, even though Trump lost New Hampshire by 59,000 votes. On Thursday, Boston talk radio host Jeff Kuhner declared the Windham audit, along with the Arizona count, carried “immense importance.”

“It’s going to lead to potentially other dominoes falling,” Kuhner said. “Minnesota, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and yes, New Hampshire. Now whether it will lead to Trump coming back to power? I don’t think so. But that’s almost besides the point. It will lead to a national reckoning.”

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In April, Windham’s board of selectmen chose Mark Lindeman, the acting co-director of voting technology firm Verified Voting, as its auditor. But Trump supporters in Windham grew furious at the Lindeman pick after discovering that he had co-signed a letter, along with a list of election experts that includes the Brennan Center for Justice and the Carter Center, questioning the need for the Arizona audit and claiming it would only “stoke conspiracy theories.”

For the MAGA faithful in Windham, there’s only one choice for auditor: Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, an inventor and controversial treasure hunter who has become a sort of internet folk hero to hardcore Trump fans. Hundreds of Pulitzer’s supporters turned raucous at a Board of Selectmen meeting last week, waving American flags, chanting “Stop the Steal,” and turning their backs on the selectmen who refused to reconsider Lindeman’s selection.

Many of the protesters demanded that Pulitzer inspect the ballots instead. One Pulitzer supporter held a sign with Lindeman’s name crossed out, with Pulitzer’s name in its place. At one point, a Pulitzer supporter asked attendees how many people wanted Pulitzer to count the ballots, prompting many of them to stand up in support of Pulitzer.

“It was humbling, and scary as shit at the same exact time, right?” Pulitzer told The Daily Beast. “What an honor, but what a weight on someone’s shoulders.”

Bruce Breton, a longtime Windham selectman and the only one who voted against Lindeman’s selection, said he backed Pulitzer as the auditor pick after receiving roughly 3,000 emails from Pulitzer’s fans.

“It’s just amazing the groundswell of people that wanted Pulitzer,” Breton said.

Pulitzer rose to fame in the early 2000s tech boom under his birth name, Jovan Philyaw, with the CueCat, a cat-shaped code scanning device that PCWorld once dubbed one of the “Worst Tech Products of All Time.” He later re-emerged in the public eye as a treasure hunter, at least one of whose findings has been hotly disputed by experts.

After the election, Pulitzer has styled himself as a “pattern recognition expert.” Pulitzer claimed he had a technology that could detect “kinematic folds,” which he said could be used to see whether ballots were properly folded.

The prospect that Pulitzer’s ballot inspection could find evidence suggesting fraud where every other audit and recount failed turned him into a star on the MAGA internet, with Trump supporters angry at election results across the country demanding that local officials bring in Pulitzer to look at their ballots. Pulitzer has even been immortalized in a song written by one of his fans, with lyrics addressed to Pulitzer like “you’re a fearless braveheart patriot” and “you’ll go down in our history as our warrior.”

Pulitzer repeatedly declined to give The Daily Beast examples of his “kinematic” ballot inspection technology being used in official ballot examinations, claiming he’s restricted by non-disclosure agreements. Pulitzer also declined to discuss what role he may have in the Arizona recount, though a spokesman for the Arizona audit has said Pulitzer is involved. Pulitzer was an early source for the “bamboo fiber” idea now in play in Arizona.

Pulitzer’s ideas have prompted pushback from some officials. Georgia’s secretary of state dubbed Pulitzer a “failed treasure hunter.” In a letter to the operator of the Arizona audit, that state’s secretary of state blasted looking for “folds” in ballots as an “unnecessary” decision that was likely to be popular with conspiracy theorists but is meaningless in terms of actual ballot auditing.

Asked why he’s been embraced by Trump supporters, Pulitzer described himself as an approachable technology expert who can explain complicated terms to the average person.

“I’m just a geek and a nerd hiding out in a biker’s body,” Pulitzer told The Daily Beast.

When a reporter for The Daily Beast emailed Pulitzer a day later to make sure he correctly heard Pulitzer’s claim to have a “biker’s body,” the inventor grew irritated. He responded with screenshots of the results for Google Images searches for “nerd” and “geek,” compared to a search that brought up pictures of tattooed, leather-clad bikers.

“Now lets fact check that.....um yep, I am definitely the third category.........FACT CHECK COMPLETE,” Pulitzer wrote in his email. “although - granted it is a conservative individual fact check and you may have to find a way to dispute it. Wow, that's deep reporting!”

Despite his ardent fans in Windham, there’s no clear path for Pulitzer to be selected as auditor in Lindeman’s place. Still, on Thursday, Pulitzer boosted a call for Windham residents to collect signatures this weekend demanding his selection.

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