A local clash over the audit of state legislative vote totals in a New Hampshire town of 14,000 has turned into one of the flashpoints in the attempts of former President Donald Trump and his supporters to cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 election.
The stakes, in terms of election outcomes, are low: A recount found that decades-old machines in Windham, a town north of Boston, undercounted votes for four Republican state legislative candidates by about 300 votes and showed 99 more votes for a Democratic candidate than had actually been cast. However, the four Republicans still won the seats they sought, and the Democrat lost.
The episode in Windham — which erupted into a battle over how an audit is conducted and who is hired to perform it — has illustrated how Trump and his supporters are seizing on every possible opening to falsely claim that the 2020 presidential election’s outcome was tainted by widespread fraud.
Corey Lewandowski, the one-time Trump campaign manager and Windham resident, said at an event with proponents of the audit recently that he has discussed the town’s audit with Trump.
“This isn’t just about the town of Windham,” he said. “We’re seeing things take place across this entire country.”
Trump himself soon weighed in, after his supporters packed into a town selectman meeting to finalize the selection of an auditor for the state legislative races.
In a statement earlier this month, he congratulated “the great Patriots of Windham, New Hampshire for their incredible fight to seek out the truth on the massive Election Fraud which took place in New Hampshire and the 2020 Presidential Election.”
Why audit Windham’s results
The discrepancy came in a race for the state legislature in which the top-four finishing candidates would win seats. All four Republican candidates won, but Democrat Kristi St. Laurent finished in fifth by just 24 votes and requested a recount.
That recount, conducted in mid-November, revealed an alarming result: The four Republicans should have each had about 300 more votes, and St. Laurent should have received 99 less votes.
In a statement following the recount, the town of Windham said that what happened “is not obvious.” It said its vote-counting machines have been in use since the mid-1990s and were last updated in 2010.
“There is a significant human element in conducting New Hampshire elections, and a simple human error impacting the count one way or the other cannot be ruled out. However, jumping to conclusions of what caused the disparity at this point is mere speculation and conjecture,” the town said at the time.
Lawmakers passed and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed a measure in April authorizing the audit of Windham’s results. At the time, Sununu insisted that it was an isolated, local incident in a state with a safe elections system.
“New Hampshire elections are safe, secure, and reliable,” Sununu said then. “Out of the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast this last year, we saw only very minor, isolated issues — which is proof our system works. This bill will help us audit an isolated incident in Windham and keep the integrity of our system intact.”
Controversy over the audit
The clash at the May 3 town selectmen meeting was over who would be selected to conduct the audit.
Town officials had decided to choose Mark Lindeman, the co-director of Verified Voting with deep expertise in election auditing.
But right-wing, pro-Trump websites, including Gateway Pundit, highlighted a letter Lindeman had signed opposing the Arizona Senate’s audit of Maricopa County’s results. The letter referred to the audit as having “little value other than to stoke conspiracy theories and partisan gamesmanship — or worse.”
Hundreds of Trump supporters packed the meeting to demand that the town select Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, a consultant in the Maricopa County audit who claims to have invented technology that can detect fraudulent ballots.
One board member, Bruce Breton, advocated for Pulitzer’s selection, but was outvoted 3-1 by other selectmen and the town moved forward with Lindeman.
“Anyone who’s coming into this looking for fraud and expecting fraud and arguing that parts of the process are inherently fraudulent is already setting themselves up such that they are looking for an end result,” Windham selectman Ross McLeod said at the meeting.
After the audit started, Ken Eyring, a local conservative activist and one of the audit’s most vocal proponents, complained that livestreamed cameras observing the audit have not been on 24 hours a day and are too far away from the action.
“We’re talking about the first-in-the-nation status. We’re talking about the integrity of our votes, OK? This is the largest unexplained discrepancy in the history of our state,” Eyring told a local reporter in an interview he posted on social media. “It’s been turned into a sham at this point.”
New Hampshire voting restrictions
New Hampshire’s Republican-led state legislature has advanced bills aimed at restricting voting rights — making same-day registration and absentee voting more difficult and targeting college students’ ability to use their school IDs to vote.
State lawmakers are also weighing legislation that would effectively establish two separate elections systems in New Hampshire — one for federal races, and one for state and local races — if Congress ultimately enacts the “For the People Act,” a sweeping voting access bill backed by Democrats that has passed the House but currently has no path forward in the evenly-divided Senate. The state would keep its current rules in place for everything but federal races under the proposal, which was the subject of a state House committee hearing Wednesday.
But the voting proposals in New Hampshire have not made the same national waves as restrictive voting bills in states like Georgia, Arizona and Texas — states with much closer 2020 results and more electoral votes at stake.
New Hampshire, while crucial in the presidential nominating process due to its status as the first-in-the-nation primary state, was not a major prize in the 2020 general election: Biden won the state’s four electoral votes by 7 percentage points, drawing nearly 60,000 more votes than Trump in a state where about 800,000 ballots were cast, on his way to a 306-to-232 electoral vote victory.
The errors in Windham, though, were vexing — and Trump supporters were seizing on the discrepancies there to call the entire state’s results into question.
Lewandowski asked why the race between Biden and Trump wasn’t part of the process of reviewing the town’s results.
“Why aren’t we including the presidential race in this recount?” he said. “I don’t understand it.”