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Early Voting Numbers Give NHDems Another ‘Red Wave’ Warning

An NBC News website tracking early and absentee ballots reports Granite State Democrats hold a 44 to 30 percent advantage over Republicans.

For Democrats, that is the bad news.

Political pros tell NHJournal that Republicans are the party of Election Day voting, a trend that has increased in the wake of President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread election fraud. Democrats, on the other hand, embraced early and mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result, New Hampshire Democrats have typically enjoyed two-to-one margins in the ballots cast before Election Day arrived. But according to NBC News, of the more than 45,000 early ballots cast in New Hampshire as of Monday, 44 percent were from registered Democrats, 30 percent from registered Republicans and 26 percent from undeclared or third-party voters.

“More Democrats (54 percent) than Republicans (32 percent) say they will vote early — a 22-percentage-point difference,” Gallup reported last week based on a national sample.

However, Michael McDonald, the University of Florida political scientist who tracks early voting data, recently told CNN there are red flags for Democrats in the data already collected.

“On balance, the early vote in a typical election is usually won by Democrats, or at least registered Democrats. This election cycle it is the Republicans who are winning the early vote,” McDonald said.

According to McDonald, as of last week, registered Republicans have an almost 180,000-vote advantage in both the mail ballots and the in-person early vote nationwide. While Republicans tend to outnumber Democrats at in-person voting, they are now surprisingly taking a big advantage in early voting, he said.

While Democrats are signaling a preference for early voting, this year the reality is trending toward Republicans, according to McDonald, with more Republicans returning their early ballots than Democrats.

“So, if you look at the return rate, as of (November 2), 48 percent of Democrats have returned their mail ballots compared with 55 percent of Republicans. So those are people who have a mail ballot in their hand, and you’re seeing a big disparity there in these return rates,” McDonald said.

Former House Speaker Bill O’Brien said the data currently shows Democrats are slipping in the early vote game, with fewer of their voters even asking for absentee ballots this cycle. Democrats have a major enthusiasm gap driving the declines, he said.

“The fact that only about 6 to 7 percent of the ultimate vote in absentee ballots have been requested and that the Democrats have gained less than a .06 percent advantage for all their absentee ballot efforts certainly shows their voters are discouraged,” O’Brien said. “And Democratic voters should be discouraged because they have to choose whether to effectively join the weird branch or the insane branch of the Democratic Party by voting for Democratic candidates almost exclusively representing one or the other.”

This year’s totals are already down from past cycles. In 2020’s COVID-era election, more than 260,000 of about 815,000 ballots cast were via mail, or about 31 percent of the total

The high absentee ballot turnout is largely due to COVID fears driving more people to skip the voting lines. This year’s 45,000 early ballots are like 2018’s 45,000 ballots cast. That midterm election saw a total of 580,000 ballots, meaning the early vote made up about 8 percent of the total.

The New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office does not break down the total data by party registration.

AG Investigation Finds More Ballots from Bedford Election Fiasco

CONCORD — Two more uncounted absentee ballots from Bedford’s 2020 presidential election were found Wednesday as officials with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office conducted a public count of all the town’s absentee ballots. It is the next step in their ongoing investigation into the mishandled ballots from the affluent community’s 2020 general election.

Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards led the effort to open about a dozen ballot boxes and check every one of the more than 7,000 absentee ballots cast in 2020.

“We reviewed all of the absentee envelopes that were involved in the Bedford general election – which was more than 7,000, almost 8,000 envelopes – to make sure that there were no other ballots that hadn’t been counted,” Edwards said.

Anne Edwards of the NH Attorney General’s office and Bud Fitch with the Secretary of State’s office review uncounted ballots from the 2020 general election in Bedford.

Bedford’s ballot boxes were seized by the Attorney General’s Office late last year after town officials were caught trying to hide a ballot snafu from the public. Close to 190 uncounted absentee ballots were found in the days after the November 2020 election. Town election officials tried to keep news of the uncounted ballots from leaking to the public despite Edwards and her staff advising that the impacted voters ought to be told.

The counting of all absentee ballots took place at the New Hampshire State Archives building in Concord in public view. The process took six hours as officials with the state went through all the absentee ballots and then checked through the known 188 uncounted ballots.

Edwards and her team also examined a second batch of ballots from the same election that were part of the original election count but lost for the subsequent recount.  The ballots were reportedly discovered inside a box for a voting machine used in the September 2021 special election. Again, town officials tried to keep word of those ballots from spreading to Bedford voters. Edwards said the ballots should not have been laying around for close to a year.

“They should have been sealed at the end of the night and they should have been with the rest of the 2020 ballots, but they weren’t,” she said.

Edwards said a full report on what happened in Bedford is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Former Bedford Town Moderator Bill Klein, who was part of the attempt to keep the public in the dark about the ballots, said the town struggled in 2020 dealing with an unprecedented number of absentee ballots cast during the COVID-impacted election. More than 16,000 Bedford voters cast ballots that year, with close to 8,000 absentee ballots.

“Hopefully we’ll never have to go through this again, but honestly maybe things should have been done a little bit differently,” Klein said Wednesday.

The fallout from the ballot errors already cost current Town Moderator Brian Shaughnessy a shot at becoming a circuit court judge. In 2020, Shaughnessy was the assistant town moderator and was the first person to tell Klein to keep quiet about the ballots.

Former Bedford Town Moderator Bill Klein is on hand as state officials review the ballots left uncounted during the 2020 general election.

After being brought before the Town Council, Shaughnessy said one reason he and Klein did not tell anyone in town government about the ballots was to prevent members of the public from finding out.

“If we came to the Town Council while the (Attorney General’s Office) investigation is pending it becomes public knowledge,” Shaughnessy has said.

Shaughnessy’s actions in the drama cost him support from the Executive Council when his judicial nomination was considered last month.

Klein later tried to blame the lack of transparency on the Attorney General’s Office, but that version of events is disputed by Edwards. She took Klein to task in a letter she sent to Klein and other town officials last year.

“Our office never instructed you not to tell anyone of the incident involving the 190 uncounted absentee ballots,” Edwards wrote to Klein.

According to Edwards, Klein was told last summer that he needed to tell the voters whose ballots were not counted what had happened. Klein dragged his feet on the notifications, according to Edwards’s letter.

“Since early June, our Office has been in contact with Bedford election officials regarding possible remediation plans and investigative interviews,” Edwards wrote. “During those conversations, Bedford election officials raised concerns that they did not want to notify voters of the fact that their ballots were not counted. Our Office directed that such a notification was a requirement of any remediation plan.”

Klein was directed to make the notification in August and again in September, and finally he was told by Edwards that he would have to make the notifications after the September special election. Klein finally told voters in October 2021.

Wednesday’s ballot examination in Concord was aimed in part at making sure all the people who had their ballots uncounted were in fact notified by Klein. State officials checked the names on the ballots against the names on the list of people the town had notified. No discrepancies were found during Wednesday’s examination.

Laconia Joins List of NH Towns With Ballot Snafus in 2021

More stray ballots from the 2020 general election have been found during a 2021 election, this time in Laconia. And the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office is investigating.

Ballots were reportedly found in a voting machine in September, more than 10 months after the 2020 election. Deputy General Counsel Myles Matteson with Attorney General’s Office said the ballots weren’t reported to his office until this month. Matteson said Wednesday he is unsure why the city took almost three months to report them.

“We don’t have further information to share on that at this point but our investigation is ongoing,” Matteson said.

Laconia officials are not talking. City Clerk Cheryl Hebert, City Manager Scott Myers, and Mayor Andrew Hosmer all declined to respond to requests for comment from New Hampshire Journal on Wednesday.

According to the Concord Monitor, most municipalities in New Hampshire use AccuVote optical scanning systems to tabulate paper ballots. When a voter fills out a ballot, it is scanned and dropped into a secure box connected to the scanner. 

Hebert told the Monitor the city uses an option in the ballot-counting system which allows some ballots to be diverted to a special partitioned section of the box. But she would not say if the ballots discovered in September were found in the special partition. Matteson said whatever happened, it was not the machine’s fault.

“There is no indication that the ballots were left in the ballot collection box because of machine error,” he said.

Representatives for AccuVote are unavailable for comment this week due to the Christmas holiday.

Matteson said the total number of found ballots is not known at this time, but he said they would not change the outcome of any race. While the problem may not be a mechanical error, some Granite Staters in the so-called voter integrity movement want to do away with all voting machines.

The New Hampshire Voter Integrity group is an online community that includes conspiracy theorists who believe Donald Trump won the 2020 election. An effort to get rid of the voting machines in Greenland recently failed overwhelmingly at the ballot box, though there are more plans in other towns to get rid of the machines.

The AccuVote optical scanners used in New Hampshire were generally manufactured in the 1990s, and do not have the ability to go onto the internet, or even be accessed by Bluetooth devices. That has not stopped conspiracy theories from speculating the vote totals were manipulated because of the machines.

The Laconia ballot error is similar to ballot mishaps in Bedford, Merrimack, and Nottingham when stray ballots were found months later.

Bedford tried and failed to keep word of its ballot mishandling secret. Last year, 190 absentee ballots in the November 2020 general election were mistakenly placed among counted ballots and weren’t found until five days later. Town election officials, at the suggestion of Assistant Town Brian Shaughnessy, kept their existence secret from town councilors and the general public — including the 190 disenfranchised voters.

Last month, Town Manager Rick Sawyer sent members of the Town Council an email informing them that another stash of counted 2020 ballots had been found in a ballot box in September during the special election. It took the town weeks to tell anyone about these ballots. Senior Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards confirmed she’s investigating that latest ballot snafu. Edwards had all of Bedford’s ballot boxes seized as part of the investigation.

According to emails obtained by New Hampshire Journal, Town Council Chairman Dan Gilbert was upset that the news of the ballots had gone public. He told councilors not to answer questions about the ballots.

“I have asked for a meeting with our town attorney, town clerk, and town moderator to decide on a course of action in this matter. Please refrain from asking questions or making any comments until a path forward is decided on. I am very disturbed that someone already spoke to the NH Journal about this matter,” Gilbert wrote.