Voter machine audit comes up with new totals in Windham

May 17—PEMBROKE — The first review in the forensic audit of Windham election returns has produced different vote totals than were reported right after the Nov. 3 election.

The four Republican candidates for state representative in Windham each got roughly 220 more votes through an audit of automated vote counting machines than reported on Election Day.

Meanwhile, Kristi St. Laurent, the top-finishing Democrat, got about 125 fewer votes from the audit than announced Nov. 3.

The audit of the four AccuVote machines used to count ballots in Windham wrapped up over the weekend.

Volunteers began Monday the hand recounting of all ballots cast in the races for state representative, governor and U.S. senator.

Mark Lindeman, one of the three-person audit team, urged the volunteers to carefully examine ballots with fold lines in them as the automated voting machines improperly counted some of them as votes.

"In some cases fold lines are being interpreted by the scanners as valid votes," Lindeman said. "That's something we especially want to encourage to look for at the table."

Harri Husti, another member of the audit team, said the hand recount could take more than a week to complete.

Hursti had said he would not be surprised if the audit came up with vote totals different than found either on the automated machines or after the November hand recount.

The Legislature and Gov. Chris Sununu ordered the audit after there was a wide discrepancy in votes counted by the machines and then in a hand recount on Nov. 12.

On Election Day, Republican Julius Soti finished fourth to take the last of four seats for state representative by 24 votes over St. Laurent. But Soti's win grew to 420 votes after the hand recount.

The average of the votes tabulated from the four machines after the audit put Soti ahead of St. Laurent by 377 votes, 4,706 to 4,329.

Curiously, there was far less of a difference found in Election Night returns and those in the machine audit review in either the race for governor or U.S. senator.

The total votes for Gov. Sununu varied by fewer than 20 in the audited returns, and differed by fewer than 40 votes for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Hursti said last week it was likely that the discrepancy would likely be more than one factor.

The vote-counting machines used in Windham and about 85% of cities and towns in New Hampshire are one of the oldest models in circulation, with a memory chip that dates back to 1981, Hursti said.

While it's outdated, Hursti said, the machine is harder to hack than more modern vote-counting machines because the paper ballots it counts provide backup.

On Monday, volunteer teams of five at each table examined the ballots and reported their interpretation about candidates' votes.

All proceedings of the audit are live-streamed on the web.

The audit must be completed by May 27.