Editor’s note: The town of Windham, New Hampshire, is presently conducting an audit of its Nov. 3, 2020 election, in which a hand recount one week later revealed that four Republican candidates each gained about 300 votes not counted on Election Night. Vermont uses the same Diebold AccuVote-OS vote tabulators owned by Dominion and managed by LHS Associates, of Salem, N.H. The following article by Alvin see has been republished with permission from GraniteGrok.
By Alvin See
It may be that the AccuVote machines can sometimes mistake a fold in a ballot as a bonafide vote for the candidate whose name, and the associated oval, happens to be on a fold on that ballot.
For those voters using an absentee ballot, the ballot is folded to put in an envelope for mailing. One of the things that the Windham Audit is taking note of is ballots that had been folded on or near a candidate’s name. This may be the reason for the original vote discrepancy.
For an office with a single winner, such as for governor, the candidate names are on the same line. If there is a fold on that line, and the machine reads your vote and one or more other ovals as a vote, then the machine is programmed to identify an overvote and record that as a blank vote. If this happens, your vote for that office didn’t count.
For the state representative race, many cities or towns have more than one representative, with Windham having four. For these ballots, the representative candidate names are staggered on different lines, supposedly to make the ballot less confusing to the voters.
In this case for Windham, a candidate whose name and the oval happen to be where the ballot is likely to be folded can get an unfair advantage in two ways.
First, if the voter votes for any combination of four other candidates and if the machine counts the fold as a vote, then an overvote results, and the four valid votes are not counted.
Second, if the voter votes for less than four candidates (undervote) and the machine counts a fold as a vote, then the name on the fold gets credited with a vote that is not valid. In both cases, the candidate whose name is on the fold gets an unfair advantage in the vote count.
On the Windham ballot, the line for all governor candidates was near where ballots may have been folded. The other likely fold location was near St. Laurent’s name. If there were about 400 misreads on the machines, consisting of about 300 overvotes killing as many valid votes for mostly Republicans, and about 100 invalid votes added to St. Laurent, the Windham discrepancy can be explained.
For those ballots with a vote for St. Laurent and with or without votes for any other candidates, the fold issue would likely not be there.
In Derry for the November 2020 election, they used eight AccuVote machines. One machine was used exclusively for absentee ballots. This machine registered over 750 overvotes (for all offices together) with less than 100 overvotes total on all the other seven machines. This implies a major problem with these
AccuVote machines and folded ballots. Derry had asked the AG’s office to investigate but they did not.
When the information of the Derry overvotes was provided to one of the auditors of the Windham Audit, he arranged to have an inquiry sent to the election officials in all of the state’s cities and towns asking about any discrepancies where more than one AccuVote machine was in use last November. This is to give them some more background information.
It should be considered that these machines may not be equally sensitive across the width of the ballot. This could mean that the potential for a misread may only happen if the ballot is inserted into the machine in a certain orientation, such as front side up and bottom first into the machine. Also, remember that each machine may not be equally calibrated or sensitive in this regard.
Some Legislative suggestions to do as a follow-up:
- Require the hand-counting of all folded ballots. This makes for a long night of ballot counting for large population towns. Some towns are larger than individual city wards so this may affect towns slightly more than cities.
- Keep ballots flat, use large envelopes for mailing. The cost of envelopes and postage go way up.
- Design ballots to not have candidate names (& ovals) within 1/2 inch of a fold location. This reduces the space on the ballot for all the various offices and the associated candidates.
- Require machines be programmed to report the number of overvotes (along with the blanks) for each race on the ballot. This gives the candidates a better idea of whether to file for an official recount. This can also show the public how big the machine error problem may be. This ought to be done even if nothing else gets done.
- Provide for a way for citizens to petition for recounts even if the candidates don’t ask.
- For official recounts, require that at least two other offices be audited on the ballots involved in the recount.
- Ban ballot-counting machines. This will make for a really long night of ballot counting.
Some other things to do:
- Warrant articles in the various towns/cities to discontinue the use of the AccuVote machines and hand-count ballots within individual towns or cities. You can ask your Selectmen to do it or do a petitioned warrant article.
- Get more candidates to request a recount, even on some long-shots.
- Get more people to watch and observe the election process. Publish pictures and videos of local results. Get photos of the sealed boxes of ballots.
- Push back against any election official that tries to stonewall the public. Get names and details and publish.
When the Windham Audit results are in, we should have a clearer picture of the ballot counting problem in New Hampshire. None of the above addresses any potential issues with the programming. Having more recounts and audits could help expose programming issues.