By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The mystery of the 31 ballots that dogged the recount in the election for the New Hampshire Senate in District 7 was resolved on Monday, and Democrat Andrew Hosmer of Laconia congratulated Republican Harold French of Franklin on his victory by 17 votes.
On election night French was declared the winner by a margin of just 13 votes, 13,865 to 13,852, and Hosmer requested a recount. When the votes were recounted by hand French's margin widened to 17 votes, 13,880 to 13,863, and New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner verified the result.
However, when the votes were recounted by hand, both candidates lost votes in Laconia, Ward 5, which Hosmer originally carried by 64 votes, 523 to 459. Hosmer's vote fell by 18 to 505 while French's vote fell by 13 to 446 and the total number of ballots cast in the race shrank by 31, from 982 to 951. In other words, on election night officials at the polling station in Ward 5 reported that 31 more ballots were cast in the race than were found and counted in the course of the recount, which prompting suspicions that 31 ballots had gone astray.
In Laconia, City Clerk Mary Reynolds flatly insisted that there were no missing ballots. She met with the election officials from Ward 5 last Friday and, after carefully retracing the steps taken on election night, soon unravelled the source of the discrepancy. She said that once the polls closed the moderator emptied the machine of ballots. First, three ballots that were rejected by the machine were counted. Then the ward clerks were given the 31 ballots bearing write-in votes in order to tally the write-in votes. But, instead, all the votes — not only the write-in votes — on those ballots were counted, which led to double counting the votes — first by machine, then by hand — on those 31 ballots.
Reynolds said that before 5 p.m. on Friday she knew what had happened and reported to the New Hampshire Secretary of State. On Monday, attorney Paul Twomey and Lucas Meyer, representing Hosmer, appeared at City Hall, where Reynolds explained how the discrepancy in the results arose.
Soon afterwards Hosmer issued a prepared statement congratulating French while adding "I would like to thank the Laconia City Clerk's office for their diligent work over the past five days to help address discrepancies that were identified over the course of this extremely close recount."
One footnote to the election. Only in Salisbury among the 17 precincts in the district, which includes six wards in Laconia, three wards in Franklin and the towns of Andover, Belmont, Boscawen, Canterbury, Gilford, Northfield, Salisbury and Webster, did the tally reported on election night match the tally following the recount.