Questions about Windham vote tally remain

Julie Huss, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
·4 min read

Feb. 17—WINDHAM — Officials are still hoping to find answers as to why a state recount result following a local state representative election last fall showed such a disparity in vote numbers between the state's tally and those of the town.

A state recount of Windham's Rockingham County District 7 state representative race following the Nov. 3 election didn't change the outcome between two candidates, but numbers showed some disparities between the town and the state's tallies.

Windham voters cast ballots that day to choose four state representatives, with the top vote counts going to the four Republican candidates, Mary Griffin, Charles McMahon, Robert Lynn and Julius Soti.

Four Democratic candidates were also on the ballot, including Kristi St. Laurent.

With more than 10,000 ballots cast in town for the General Election, St. Laurent took the fifth spot on the list, with only 24 votes separating her from Soti's winning number.

That led to the recount on Nov. 12.

Town Clerk Nicole Bottai said soon after that with that 24-vote difference between Soti and St. Laurent, the recount was expected and planned. The state contacted the town and took the ballots as part of the recount process.

Once the recount was done, the GOP win for all four state representative seats remained the same, with candidates picking up additional votes.

That included Soti earning another 297 votes according to the recount, but Laurent ended up losing 99 votes according to the state's tallies.

And while there were no allegations of fraud or wrongdoing in the race in Windham, there were lingering questions as to why in the recount St. Laurent lost by 99 votes and the four Republicans in the eight-way race gained nearly 300 votes each.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner and Ballot Law Commission Chairman Brad Cook couldn't explain what happened, but said it would be in the purview of the Attorney General's Office to investigate and agreed it wouldn't change the outcome of the race between St. Laurent and Soti.

In a letter to the state, St. Laurent wrote there appeared to be only two rational explanations for the disparities between town and state, "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."

St. Laurent continued in her letter, saying "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."

After the recount, Windham officials requested the state continue to look into what may have happened. That included the town responding to a state request for additional information about voting procedures in town.

And at recent meetings, selectmen and other town officials continue to be perplexed and still want answers months later.

"We are trying to find out what went wrong," said Board of Selectmen Chairman Ross McLeod at a recent meeting. "People want to have confidence that the process worked as intended."

Deputy Town Moderator Betty Dunn, also the school district moderator, said people in town want to make sure their elections run smoothly.

"But the issue is still outstanding and there is no resolution," she said. "To my knowledge, no one has found any major errors yet. We're just in limbo."

Dunn suggested the town could find additional ways to get a solution.

"With lack of response from the state, I don't see any action coming from the Attorney General," Dunn said, adding the town could "take further action on our part."

St. Laurent, texting into a recent meeting, echoed that any further investigation should include a review of the recount process and results.

"The easiest thing to do it would seem is to run the ballots through our machine and another machine, see if the machines agree and if the total mirrors the town results or the recount results. Then we know what process or function to dig into," St. Laurent said in her message to selectmen.

Selectmen will take up more discussion at its meeting on Feb. 22 and could discuss what other options the town has moving forward.

Nancy West of InDepthNH.org contributed to this story.