The Bedford ballot fiasco that embarrassed one of the state’s most affluent communities and cost a would-be Sununu appointee a judgeship is finally coming to an end with one last blow to the town’s reputation.
It will have to conduct its next election under the scrutiny of a state-appointed supervisor.
“As a result of the concerns and shortcomings described in this and our prior correspondences, the Attorney General makes a finding that the November 2020 General Election returns from Bedford had significant deficiencies,” Myles Matteson of the state Attorney General’s Election Law Unit wrote to Bedford town officials. “The Secretary of State, in consultation with the Attorney General, will be appointing an election monitor for the next election, the September 13, 2022, primary election.”
The story began with the revelation, first reported by NHJournal, that nearly 200 ballots cast in the 2020 general election had been misplaced by Bedford election officials, who then kept their mistake a secret for nearly a year. When Town Clerk Sally Kellar and Election Moderator Bill Klein finally acknowledged the error in a letter sent to the disenfranchised voters, they falsely claimed they kept the blunder secret under orders from the state Attorney General’s Office.
Under ongoing scrutiny, Assistant Town Moderator Brian Shaughnessy eventually acknowledged he was the source of the decision to keep both the elected Town Council and the voting public in the dark about the ballot mess. Shaughnessy, a Democrat, insisted through the investigation he did nothing wrong, but his behavior cost him the votes of four Executive Councilors when Gov. Chris Sununu nominated him to a judgeship.
Despite those revelations, Shaugnessy ran unopposed for Bedford Town Moderator and was elected in March 2022.
The attorney general’s letter also addresses the town’s mishandling of the second tranche of misplaced ballots that Bedford officials attempted to keep secret from state officials.
“Bedford election officials should have immediately notified the Secretary of State’s Office and/or the Attorney General’s Office when they were found. Instead, this Office learned about the found ballots through press accounts months later,” a reference to NHJournal’s reporting.
“This is inexcusable. Bedford election officials knew our office had an ongoing review concerning the 2020 General Election regarding the misplacement of ballots, yet did not alert us that they had found more ballots,” Matteson wrote.
Bedford will be one of just two communities forced to conduct their upcoming election under the scrutiny of an outside observer. Windham, which suffered a major voting machine glitch in 2020 involving folded ballots, will also have an observer from the Secretary of State’s Office.
“This is a very positive outcome,” said former Bedford Town Councilor Kelleigh Murphy. “The citizens of Bedford are entitled to transparency in the voting process, and the reassurance that their votes are being counted. I am hopeful that with the use of an observer to ensure a fair election and ballot process, confidence will be restored.”
In their letter, the Attorney General’s Office noted two additional uncounted ballots were discovered during the investigation, bringing the total to 190.
“It is apparent that town election officials did not know of the 190 uncounted absentee ballots prior to the recount conducted by the Secretary of State’s Office on November 10, 2020,” Matteson wrote, while reiterating the lost ballots would not have altered the outcome of any of the races.
“This office anticipates closing this matter upon receipt of confirmation that the Town has sent correspondences to both additional voters whose uncounted ballots were discovered at the public session, and receipt of the election monitor’s report subsequent to the primary election,” the letter concludes.