THERE IS NO evidence of widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire.
It is also true that nearly every election recount “finds” votes.
Many of these votes surface when both sides agree on the intent of a voter. That means they agree to count the vote of a person who didn’t exactly follow the proper instructions, which kept a machine from counting it.
Another common error is data entry, which involves an election worker entering a number on the vote total summary sheet that doesn’t match the number that should have been reported.
That’s what appears to have happened in Merrimack in Executive Council District 5.
After the election, local officials reported totals for Milford Republican David Wheeler and Nashua Democratic Councilor Debora Pignatelli, which Secretary of State Bill Gardner’s staff posted online.
The Wheeler campaign then let Gardner’s office know those weren’t the numbers they had from the town.
State election officials then issued “corrected” totals for Merrimack, which gave Wheeler an additional 1,600 votes and Pignatelli another 380 votes.
In Windham, after the recount of a House race last week, all four winning Republicans received at least 297 additional votes.
In the recount, one of the four defeated Democrats lost 99 votes, but the three other Democrats made small pickups of 18 to 28 votes.
None of those changes altered the outcomes.
Finally, let’s consider the recount of all ballots in state Senate District 12.
On election night, Republican Kevin Avard defeated first-term Brookline Democratic Sen. Melanie Levesque by 805 votes.
The district has nine polling places. That’s 18 total tallies if you count all nine for each candidate.
Only four of those 18 matched the numbers reported after Election Day.
The changes were not seismic. Levesque picked up 30 votes in Nashua Ward 5, where Avard received an additional 27.
When the recount was complete, Avard had 17,534 votes to 16,729 for Levesque.
The victory margin was 805 votes, exactly the same as before the recount.
The recount of the Wheeler-Pignatelli race is scheduled for next Friday. It will be the last of the 16 requested recounts.
Friendly battles upcoming
At present, the only Republican candidates for speaker of the New Hampshire House are Republican Leader Dick Hinch of Merrimack and longtime state Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry.
The House GOP caucus is set for this Friday, after all legislative recounts are completed.
Hinch is the odds-on favorite. Baldasaro, who has run for leadership positions before, is well liked among the party’s most ardent supporters of President Donald Trump.
At the end of last week, Baldasaro dropped out tossing his support to Hinch.
If Hinch prevails, the heavy bet is Rep. Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, will move into leadership. He’s someone who would bridge the gap very well between all factions of the House GOP caucus.
The good news for the GOP is all signs point to the winner picking up the loser’s support.
The goal is taking and trying to keep GOP control going forward.
Over in the House, Speaker Stephen Shurtleff, D-Penacook, has told supporters he is not in the running to lead the caucus while Democrats are in the minority for the next two years.
Shurtleff could end up with a role in a Joe Biden administration.
Shurtleff, a former deputy U.S. marshal, goes way back with Biden to past presidential campaigns. He has long been a fixture in Biden’s New Hampshire inner circle, which includes state Rep. Dan Eaton, D-Stoddard.
House Majority Leader Doug Ley, D-Jaffrey, would be the logical choice to step up and lead Democrats.
With Democrats losing the majority, other members are also pursuing this post. Rep. Matt Wilhelm, D-Manchester, declared his candidacy on Facebook last week and promoted a detailed strategy, including support for ranked-choice voting. Other Democrats have urged Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, to run.
The state Senate is, per usual, much more predictable and already decided. Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, will return as president and former Senate president Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, ultimately will lead the Senate Democratic caucus.
Who else might move
Naturally, Biden’s New Hampshire supporters are closely following D.C. developments. Over the coming months, many will be consulted when the new administration looks to name people to federal jobs and important roles on boards and commissions.
Former Gov. John Lynch should be considered a go-to person. He came on board early for Biden and did a lot of surrogate work for him across the state.
State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, another key early pickup, goes back decades with Biden.
Former-U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., Sen. Levesque and Rep. David Cote, D-Nashua, were other early supporters.
Given the poor showings of Biden and Harris in the first-in-the-nation primary, some calls could be made with an eye toward reaching out to those who backed Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, the top three New Hampshire primary finishers.
Not just yet
Sununu has a strong opinion about the New Hampshire House of Representatives returning to its legislative chambers any time soon.
He thinks it’s not a good idea.
“That would be a really bad idea to have 400 representatives in the State House with what, the average age in their 60s. That is exactly what we don’t want to have happen,” Sununu said.
The governor, who recently sat down with House and Senate GOP leaders, said legislative leaders are viewing a “variety of options” for meeting venues in Concord and other cities, though he stressed that lawmakers will make the call.
Besides sessions, lawmakers must find a place to have committee hearings on bills.
The Legislative Office Building, which had served as that venue, lacks a state-of-the-art air ventilation system. That’s why it hasn’t been at all used since the State House was closed to the public in April.
Sununu said lawmakers could do a mixture of in-person hearings and Zoom committee meetings. Zoom meetings have been going on since last spring.
The governor thinks the GOP leadership will do a better job than Democrats did in getting lawmakers to combine and reduce the number of bills in 2021.
“I have a lot more confidence they will be able to manage the bills,” Sununu said.
Sununu was upset at how House and Senate Democratic leaders cobbled together dozens and dozens of bills into “omnibus” ones sent to him to take or leave.
He vetoed about 20. All his vetoes were upheld.
House and Senate Democratic leaders say that, with few exceptions, Sununu’s team did not negotiate with their committee leaders on these measures.
A big loss
At the end of last week, Sununu lost the chairman of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion with the passing of Rogers Johnson.
Over a long career in public service, Johnson wore many other hats, including state representative, U.S. Department of Education official and president of the NAACP’s Seacoast chapter.
Johnson had just finished serving on the Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency.
He was not a predictable political activist, and didn’t always give political party leaders the answer they wanted.
Different time, different response
With COVID-19 positive cases increasing here and in most states across the country, some Biden health care experts are suggesting a “four- to six-week” lockdown or stay-at-home policy nationwide to help control the virus.
Sununu doesn’t like the concept — not just because he thinks states should make decisions that work for their own citizens.
“I don’t see any need for that right now, and we are really far away from that,” Sununu said.
“We would really have to have lost control...we aren’t looking at any aggressive restrictions right now.”
The stay-at-home order was the right move last spring when state leaders knew much less about the virus, how to contain it and how to reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths, he said.
“We also know now and suspected at the time the mental health issues, the isolation, the issues around schools, substance abuse and misuse, domestic violence, all those issues get exacerbated right now” with another lockdown, Sununu said.
Shutting down the economy again would be even more devastating this time, he said, because there is no indication Congress would provide the same level of relief it did with the CARES Act last spring, he said.
“We don’t have another $600 per week (expanded unemployment benefit) coming our way either,” he said..
Sununu said he remains confident the next Congress will pass another COVID-19 relief bill.