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Winner confirmed in NH Senate race after post-recount appeal dropped

Thousands of challenged absentee ballots wouldn't be enough to change the outcome of the race.
Winner confirmed in NH Senate race after post-recount appeal dropped
Republican candidate Lou Gargiulo and Democratic candidate Debra Altschiller competed in the Nov. 8, 2022 election to represent District 24 in the NH Senate. Altschilller won. (Steven Porter | Granite Memo)

More than three weeks after Seacoast voters picked the candidate who will represent them in the New Hampshire Senate for District 24, the winner finally received word on Friday that her victory has been confirmed.

Initial election results clearly showed Democratic candidate Debra Altschiller of Stratham had defeated Republican candidate Lou Gargiulo of Hampton Falls for District 24, which covers seven towns. Even though the initial tally showed Altschiller had won by 3,683 votes, or 11.4 percentage points, Gargiulo called for a recount at his own expense, as allowed by state law.

The unusual recount took two days last week, during which time allies of Gargiulo seemed to be challenging each and every absentee ballot they spotted, regardless of which candidate the absentee voter had picked. The recount showed Altschiller had won by 3,712 votes, or 11.5 percentage points.

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Republican candidate Lou Gargiulo of Hampton Falls requested the recount even though initial election results showed him losing by 3,683 votes.

Gargiulo then filed an appeal to the state Ballot Law Commission, alleging that all absentee ballot applications and envelopes are “defective” because they permit absentee voting in situations other than those defined by the New Hampshire Constitution.

“I pray upon the New Hampshire Secretary of State to discount any absentee ballots until this matter can be adjudicated by a Court of Competent Jurisdiction, to the counting of the unconstitutional Votes,” Gargiulo wrote in his Nov. 21 appeal.

But even if that request were granted, it wouldn’t change the outcome of the election, according to Secretary of State David Scanlan.

“Even if you subtracted all of the absentee ballots for both candidates, the difference between the two would not have made up the difference between winning and losing,” Scanlan said, noting that the challenged ballots numbered in the thousands.

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The parties met Friday morning with Ballot Law Commission Chairman Bradford E. Cook to sort things out.

“They acknowledged that she won and even if all the absentee ballots were thrown out, she still would have won, so that really wasn’t what they were looking for,” Cook said.

Cook, a Republican, said Gargiulo agreed to withdraw his appeal to pave the way for Altschiller’s victory to be certified. However, Gargiulo will bring his concerns back before the Ballot Law Commission for review at a future meeting, likely in January.

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Gargiulo’s attorney, Corey F. MacDonald, said in a statement Friday that his client filed the appeal to shed light on important topics related to “the veracity of our elections and their results.” But the intent was never to overturn the election results, he said.

“Making sure that legal safeguards relative to ballot security are followed, and that appropriate trainings and guidance be provided in the future to cities and towns throughout the state as needed is my only goal,” Gargiulo said in the statement.

Scanlan said his office will defend the legality of the challenged ballots.

“It would be our position that absentee ballots that were cast in the 2022 midterm election were valid ballots,” he said.

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Scanlan said Friday that the paperwork confirming Altschiller’s win was en route to her, so she’ll have no trouble participating when lawmakers meet for Organization Day on Wednesday, Dec. 7.

Altschiller said she looks forward to spending the next two years supporting clean air and clean water priorities, advocating for victims of domestic violence and adverse childhood events, and promoting workers’ rights.