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AG to Appoint Election Monitor to Oversee Upcoming New Hampshire Primary

August 16, 2022 by Dan McCue
AG to Appoint Election Monitor to Oversee Upcoming New Hampshire Primary
In this May 11, 2021, file photo, election auditors Mark Lindeman, left, and Harri Hursti catalog ballot boxes in Pembroke, N.H., after they arrived at the site of a forensic audit of a New Hampshire legislative election. Auditors concluded in a report released Tuesday, July 13, 2021, that miscounts in a New Hampshire election were caused by the way ballots were folded. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds, File)

CONCORD, N.H. — State Attorney General John Formella announced Tuesday that he will appoint an election monitor to oversee the state’s Sept. 13 primary elections after an investigation revealed a pattern of apparent mistakes made in past contests.

The events that led to the decision mostly transpired during the 2020 presidential election, but came to a head on Nov. 2, 2021, when an election moderator working a city election in Laconia, New Hampshire, discovered nearly 200 uncounted ballots in the side compartment of a ballot collection box.

Notified of the discovery, Formella’s office began an investigation that included a public session on April 6, jointly conducted with the New Hampshire secretary of state’s office, at which the ballots were inventoried to determine their number and when they were cast.

“All 179 of the ballots found in the side compartment were from the 2020 elections, with 120 from the primary and 59 from the general elections,” a press release from the attorney general’s office states. “None of the votes were counted in those elections.”

In addition to the uncounted ballots, the investigation revealed a pattern of unintentional double-counting of votes by certain election officials.

Formella placed the blame for what he called “significant defects in vote counting” squarely on the shoulders of Laconia Ward 6 Election Moderator Tony Felch, and said they were due to his “complete failure to understand the duties and operations of elections and his role as the moderator.”

The Well News attempted to reach Felch, a Laconia property manager, for comment through email addresses on two different Facebook pages, one for his business, the other a campaign page for his successful run for city council in 2020.

It also reached out to him through his city council email. Finally, we received a one-word response: “scapegoat!” it said.

According to Formella’s office, the ballots in the side compartment were not counted because Felch did not understand the basic functions of the ballot collection box.

Additional investigation revealed that Felch and another election official also failed to understand the procedure for counting write-in votes. 

“Instead of hand-counting only write-in votes on cast ballots, they counted all the votes on ballots with a write-in vote,” the release from the attorney general said. 

“This resulted in dozens of 2020 General Election ballots being counted twice — once by the ballot counting device and a second time by Moderator Felch and a ballot clerk — leading cumulatively to approximately 500 double-counted votes across all races on the ballot,” the account continued. 

“With 15 races on the ballot, counting all races on one ballot with a write-in vote would result in 14 double-counted votes. While double-counting resulted in approximately 500 excess votes recorded by election officials, the total number of ballots double-counted is likely to be between 38 and 54,” the attorney general’s office said.

The investigation also revealed that Laconia Ward 6 election documentation failed to accurately record basic election operations, including reconciling the number of ballots cast with the number of votes recorded. 

“For the purposes of that reconciliation, the magnitude of the error in failing to count votes was at least partially offset by the magnitude of the error in double-counting ballots containing write-in votes,” the attorney general’s office said. 

Formella said the inability of election officials to reconcile election results should have triggered immediate concern. However, neither Felch nor the former city clerk notified the secretary of state or attorney general’s office of the issues. 

“While the final combined impact of the failure to count cast ballots and double-counting is not able to be determined due to grossly inadequate Ward 6 election records, there remains a possibility that the number of votes lost from the uncounted ballots or added from double-counting could have been outcome determinative for some races,” the attorney general’s office said. 

“Due to the fact that the deadlines for any recount for races on the ballots in question have long passed, there are no statutory mechanisms to revisit the vote counts for 2020 elections in Laconia Ward 6,” it added.

Because he found no evidence supporting deliberate or intentional misconduct on the part of Laconia Ward 6 election officials, Formella asked for and received Felch’s resignation as ward election moderator.

What happened, the attorney general said, was “completely unacceptable and entirely unfair to the citizens of Laconia Ward 6 who trust that their election officials will work diligently to ensure that their constitutional right to vote is honored and protected.”   

No specific date has been set for the appointment of the election monitor.

But one lingering question remained: Shouldn’t someone have made sure Felch was well versed in the rules and procedures before he oversaw an election?

“We would tell you that the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office offers regular training for moderators and election officials,” said Michael Garrity, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.

“The office regularly distributes updates and guidance documents to continually educate election officials,” he said. “Additionally, the secretary of state issues the Election Procedure Manual, a guidance document that extensively describes the duties of all election officials, including moderators, and how to administer elections according to New Hampshire law. 

“Elected election officials are not disqualified from service if they neglect to attend these training sessions,” Garrity said.

According to the New Hampshire Board of Elections, then-former Vice President Joe Biden defeated then-President Donald Trump 424,921 votes to 365,654. Libertarian presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen garnered 13,325 votes.

The state has four Electoral College votes.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and @DanMcCue

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