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What We Learned On The Opening Day Of The Windham Election Audit

doj.nh.gov
One of the first steps of the audit: delivering and inspecting the boxes containing Windham's ballots.

A closely watched audit of Windham’s November election results got underway Tuesday.

The team behind it has until May 27 to figure out what might be behind a nearly 400 vote gap between Windham’s vote totals on Election Night and the results of a state-run recount a week later.

“This fact pattern seems unusual, if not unprecedented,” Mark Lindeman, one of the auditors overseeing the Windham review, acknowledged on Tuesday.

(Looking for more details on why the audit is happening? Click here for an explainer.)

The opening day of the audit was largely administrative: Before any counting could begin, Windham’s ballot counting devices had to be transported from town offices, and its ballots had to be signed out of the State Archives, where they’ve been locked up for several months. That process itself took several hours, and no ballots were tallied by the time the day wrapped up. But we did get more details on what to expect out of the audit in the weeks ahead. Here’s what we know.

If you want to watch the audit from your desk, you're in luck.

A limited number of spots are available for people to watch the audit in-person (see here for details on how to apply) but a livestream of the audit venue will also be running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The team running the audit will also offer daily, public updates on their progress. On Tuesday, the auditors and state officials took turns narrating what was happening in real-time — even if just to note that ballot boxes were en route.

Harri Hursti, an election security expert and one of the auditors, said he and the other two auditors know what it’s like to try to follow along with a complicated process like this one, and they’ve tried to design this audit with that in mind.

“We are trying to be doing exactly what we would like to be happening when we are on that side of the table,” Hursti told press and observers at the audit venue on Tuesday.

This could take at least a week — perhaps longer.

The audit will include four different phases. According to those in charge, it’ll look something like this:

  • First, the auditors will take an inventory of Windham’s ballots. The Secretary of State’s records indicate that about 10,000 ballots were cast, in total, in town last November — but the audit will try to verify that count. They’ll stamp each one with a unique ID number and will take a snapshot of each one, for reference. Each ballot will also be run through each of Windham’s four ballot counting devices. This process is expected to last about two days.
  • Next, likely starting on Friday, the audit team will begin hand counting all of Windham’s ballots. Teams of five people — two inspecting the ballots, two recording the results and one person monitoring at each station — will work through small batches of ballots to tally the results. All of those results will be recorded electronically and published for anyone to see, according to the auditors.
  • After the hand count wraps up, the team will turn its attention to the ballot counting devices, inspecting the memory cards and other internal systems. They’ll try to confirm whether all four of Windham’s ballot counting devices have the same programming, and that the programming on all of those machines matches a separate “reference” machine.
  • The final phase of the audit will include an inspection of another randomly selected set of ballots, in part to verify that they were marked by hand. This phase also includes an inspection of other election-related material not studied in earlier parts of the process: rejected ballots, envelopes and other documents related to the voting process.

New Hampshire's local election officials will play a big role in this process.

The plans outlined above are a lot for three people to tackle on their own, so the trio of outside election auditors are asking for help from people with direct experience in local voting procedures: city and town clerks, moderators and checklist supervisors.

The state put a call out to local election officials this week, asking them to volunteer for one of several audit shifts. The auditors will likely lean on these volunteers most heavily during the first two parts of the process: the ballot inventory and the hand count.

This will be the only audit of Windham's results, at least for now.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, a Rockingham County Superior Court judge heard — and dismissed — an attempt to halt the audit so that local activists could mount their own, separate investigation into Windham’s election results.

A campaign calling itself the “New Hampshire Voter Integrity Group” canvassed in Windham this weekend to garner support for this cause, and an online crowdfunding campaign has raised more than $73,000 toward this effort since it launched last week, bolstered by attention on the issue from former President Trump and right-wing commentators.

Ken Eyring, a Windham resident who’s been leading recent efforts to oppose the audit in its current form, filed a motion to stop the audit from proceeding until the state turned over copies of “data, executable programs and scripts on each of the four Windham voting machines.” He also requested access to all of the paper ballots from Windham’s November election.

In a virtual court hearing Tuesday afternoon, Eyring said he wasn’t comfortable with the auditors chosen by state and local officials, and he wanted to “bring in [his] own team” to do a separate investigation.

“I am not trying to be in any way obstructionist to the process that is going on here,” said Eyring, who also recently published a blog post titled, “URGENT MESSAGE From American Patriots to People of Windham: Your Forensic Audit in Windham is being Secretly Sabotaged.”

State attorneys opposing Eyring’s effort to intervene in the audit argued that even if he were entitled to the information he sought, he wouldn’t be able to conduct his own audit.

“He would need the Legislature to pass a law to say that there needs to be another audit, and they haven’t done that,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Anthony Galdieri said. “This is the audit that’s been approved and the process that’s been approved, and it’s going forward as it’s been approved.”

In the end, Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Daniel St. Hilaire rejected Eyring’s request to turn over the data, saying that he didn’t provide clear evidence that the officials overseeing the existing audit were not up to the task.

“At this juncture, this court is not inclined to issue an injunction to stop the state from performing the audit that the Legislature has requested,” St. Hilaire said. “Neither is the judicial branch in a position to tell the executive branch how to count the ballots, what to count and where to put that information.”

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