Close call for recount in District 11

MILFORD – The Internet’s notorious ability to spread incorrect information was demonstrated once again Friday, when the posting of an election-night error nearly led to a recount of a state Senate race.

The almost-recount of the District 11 race, in which Peter Bragdon of Milford beat Mark Fernald of Peterborough, began when Fernald saw vote tallies posted online by the New Hampshire secretary of state’s office.

The official tally said Bragdon had won by only 150 votes out of more than 29,000 cast, rather than the 447 votes that Fernald and others had calculated on election night.

“I thought at first (the difference) was due to hand-counted ballots (added after the initial tally), but all the votes were added to my side,” Fernald said.

Further, the difference was entirely in Milford.

That oddity, and the slimness of the new winning margin, led Fernald to petition for a recount.

That request, in turn, led to a query to Milford Town Clerk Peggy Langell, who oversees election tallies in town. She quickly spotted the error – her own.

“I feel like an idiot; how embarrassing,” she said Friday.

The mistake, she said, occurred around 11 p.m. on Tuesday night – about 18 hours after Election Day started for poll workers – when she was transferring vote totals from Milford’s own tally sheets onto the “return of votes” form.

Town clerks send this form to the New Hampshire secretary of state for permanent records.

Langell mistakenly wrote the vote tally for another candidate down next to Fernald’s name, giving him an extra 297 votes.

That number was transferred onto the secretary of state’s Web site, where it proceeded to spread to other places, including The Telegraph’s Thursday edition.

Once the error was spotted, the Milford vote tallies were corrected online, Bragdon’s winning margin had returned to 447, and Fernald had withdrawn his recount request.

As for Langell, who has overseen the vote-counting process in town since 1998, she’s just glad the problem was seen before an expensive and time-consuming recount occurred.

“This is the first time this has ever happened to me,” she said, adding of Tuesday: “It was a long day.”