Republican candidate David Walker acknowledged that a tie-breaking vote for a New Hampshire House of Representatives race in Rochester, N.H., didn’t go his way and that re-tallying the votes wouldn’t convert his loss into a win. But he requested a recount anyway.
The recount won’t happen, since Walker missed the deadline to file his request, according to the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office. Still, the move raises questions about what he had hoped to accomplish.
Efforts to promote hand-counting of ballots have been spurred in recent years by skepticism of ballot-counting devices, but Walker told the Globe that wasn’t a motivating factor for him. He said he has seen multiple recounts in Rochester and knows the machine count has been fairly precise, typically within a few votes of the hand count.
Walker said some residents of Rochester’s Ward 4, where the runoff was held, had urged him to seek the recount, so he hemmed and hawed, then obliged. They knew the result wouldn’t change, but they wanted a hand count anyway, he said.
Walker lost the Feb. 21 special runoff election to Democratic candidate Chuck Grassie by a margin of 117 votes, or 11.5 percent. That margin meant Walker was eligible under state law to request a recount, but he would have had to cover its full cost. No one else offered to cover the cost for him, he said.
Representative Ross Berry of Manchester, vice chairman of the Committee to Elect House Republicans, said the committee did not advise Walker to request a recount and would not have covered its cost.
Grassie, who called his team’s victory “resounding and definitive,” told the Globe that Walker appears to have contradicted himself.
“The night of the election, David Walker told me that he would not request a recount, given the large margin,” Grassie said. “This news, if true, reveals a disturbing trend among Republicans to obstruct and delay democracy, and specifically in my race.”
Individual contests for the New Hampshire House typically don’t garner much statewide attention. The stakes surrounding this race, however, were especially high. There was no question the runoff would be competitive, since Walker and Grassie had deadlocked in the November general election, with 970 votes apiece after a recount. The partisan balance in the full House, meanwhile, is as close to an even split as it ever has been, with Republicans holding 201 of the chamber’s 400 seats.
The full House could have voted to break Walker and Grassie’s tie without a runoff election. There were some signs that some Republicans might make a move to seat Walker in December, but the full House ultimately approved a bipartisan motion to send the race back to Rochester voters.
Political players and referees have spent a lot of time and energy on recounts since the November election. There were more than two dozen for the House alone, including one that spawned a lawsuit. Democrats sued in an unsuccessful bid to block Secretary of State David Scanlan from reopening a recount after the discovery of an apparent error. A judge sided with Scanlan, who resumed the count and declared a Republican winner.
Walker isn’t the first state legislative candidate to request a recount despite their clear loss. Senate candidate Melanie Levesque, a Democrat who lost by 2.5 percent in November, rescinded her request before the recount began. Senate candidate Lou Gargiulo, a Republican who lost by 11.4 percent in November, saw his request through. His recount cost him $2,080 and took two days.
Gargiulo said he was on “a fact-finding mission to ensure the integrity of the process.” Even after the recount confirmed his loss, he appealed to the state’s Ballot Law Commission in a campaign against New Hampshire’s current approach to absentee ballots. He withdrew that appeal so the winner could take her Senate seat, but he said he plans to bring his broader argument about absentee ballots back before the commission in the coming months, with help from a team of volunteers.
Daniel Richard of Auburn, a self-styled constitutional scholar who claims New Hampshire’s ballot-counting devices and absentee balloting process are unconstitutional, advised Gargiulo’s team to challenge each and every absentee ballot as part of a broader litigation strategy.
Gargiulo and Richard each told the Globe they weren’t involved in Walker’s recount request.
Walker said he heard about Gargiulo’s recount but didn’t quite understand its objective. For his own request, Walker said he didn’t have any particular goal in mind, other than following through on the process available to him.
“I am aware that this action will not change the outcome of the election,” Walker wrote in an email Friday night to the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office, “but I would like to exercise my constitutional right for a hand count of the ballots.”
That email came in at 9:54 p.m. on Friday, according to records released at the Globe’s request. But the deadline to request a recount had passed more than 24 hours earlier, at 5 p.m. on Thursday, the office said.
A spokesperson said Scanlan confirmed that Walker’s recount request on Friday night would have been rejected even if this special election had been a general election, since recount requests must be sent to Scanlan’s office by the close of business on the deadline day.