Michael Casey/AP/Shutterstock Kristi St. Laurent, who ran for a House seat in the 2020 election, poses in front of Town Hall in Windham, N.H.
As cries of "fraud" and "stolen" continue to mount in one small northeast corner of the country six months after the presidential election, local candidate Kristi St. Laurent tells PEOPLE: "I can't wait for it to all be over."
For now, many political eyes are on Windham, New Hampshire — a town of roughly 16,000 residents that wouldn't normally be a hotbed of political activity.
But in the midst of a contentious recount detailed in a new story by the Associated Press, the town now also serves as a microcosm of what's unfolded elsewhere in the wake of Donald Trump's loss to now-President Joe Biden: supporters of the former president are continuing to cry foul at election results, even when numerous recounts have shown that the ballot box is both reliable and secure.
The conflict in Windham unfolded after St. Laurent, a Democratic candidate for a state House seat, initially lost her race by 24 votes and requested a recount.
As the AP notes, such moves aren't uncommon in New Hampshire. But what happened after this one is. The recount showed that, rather than gaining votes, St. Laurent lost 99 votes — while four of the Republicans in the race each received an additional 300 votes.
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The discrepencapcy was significant enough that, in response, the state legislature passed a bill (signed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu) authorizing hand tabulations of votes and an audit of the town's ballot counting machines.
But Republican voters in Windham claimed fraud, arguing that something must be amiss with the recent elections — and if there was a mistake in one election, they said, there might have been mistakes in the tabulation of all the races.
That all four House races were actually won by Republicans — and that the discrepancy found in St. Laurent's race didn't change the outcome — doesn't seem to be dissuading conservative voters in the town who, like Trump, are claiming without evidence that someone has done something wrong.
It's all gone beyond what St. Laurent, first imagined.
"My intent in appealing to the commission was to find out what the cause of the discrepancy was and then just make sure it doesn't happen again," she explains to PEOPLE, adding that she was "kind of nervous" that even an appearance of election fraud would engulf the race.
Sure enough, it did, with Trump himself weighing in on the audit — which the AP reports is being spurred on by former Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski, who lives in the town.
Lewandowski contended to the AP that the town's residents were "gravely concerned that the election system is not properly secured and that there is the potential at least for results that don't align with what voters want."
The AP reports that a crowd of roughly 500 people showed up to last week's meeting of the Windham Board of Selectmen. Some in the crowd were carrying signs that mirrored the rhetoric of Trump in the wake of his own election loss to Biden, calling into question the legitimacy of elections.
CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Voters cast their ballots in Miami on Nov. 3
"Congratulations to the great Patriots of Windham, New Hampshire for their incredible fight to seek out the truth on the massive Election Fraud which took place in New Hampshire and the 2020 Presidential Election," Trump said in a recent election, echoing his other baseless claims about voting.
Lebanon City Clerk Kristin Kenniston, who will oversee the Windham audit, told local station WCAX that Trump's comments were hard not to take personally: "There is so many of us that put in the blood, sweat and tears to plan these things to make sure that they are 100 percent accurate."
Experts have also taken issue with Trump's statement, noting that the notion that the Windham races were rigged against the former president makes no sense considering how Republicans succeeded there.
"An election where the Republicans made gains in the state Legislature was rigged against Donald Trump. Now that doesn't really logically add up at all," professor John Lappie told WCAX.
Officials said in a recent release that the forensic audit of the four Windham elections will begin on May 11 at 10 a.m. and "must take place within 45 days of the effective date of April 12, 2021, which is May 27, 2021."
According to the AP, the Windham audit will take place in public view.
"Statistically, there are going to be some people who have remaining questions and doubt," St. Laurent tells PEOPLE. "But they've set up a lot of transparency into the audit and I have to agree with Gov. Sununu, who said the discrepancy in my race is an isolated incident. I would say that, by and large, the people in New Hampshire have a fair level of trust in our elections."
Trump's challenges to the November presidential election were roundly rejected by the courts and local and state elections officials of both parties who said no widespread fraud was found.
The Supreme Court in December rejected a lawsuit aimed at throwing out the results in four swing states Trump lost.
Voting equipment company Dominion, which found itself the target of many of the conspiracies of alleged fraud and other wrongdoing, has subsequently sued multiple Trump allies for their statements about the company.
Nonetheless, Trump's version of his loss has gained traction among the GOP base.
Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Former President Donald Trump
In Arizona, a similar situation is playing out as 2.1 million ballots that were previously counted and certified by the Republican governor are now being recounted in a partisan audit that will not ultimately have any legal bearing on the results.
"My concern grows deeper by the hour," Arizona's secretary of state said in April. "It is clear that no one involved in this process knows what they are doing, and they are making it up as they go along."
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