Brian Shaughnessy took to Facebook to defend his actions during Bedford’s recent ballot fiascos, high-profile missteps that prompted two state investigations and gave the affluent community’s reputation a black eye.
Shaughnessy took the unusual move of posting an extended explanation on social media, a possible sign both his candidacy for town moderator in March and his nomination to the bench are both in trouble.
“What’s the old saying? ‘When you’re explaining, you’re losing?'” one NHGOP political operative told NHJournal.
Shaughnessy is the town official behind the decision to leave voters in the dark regarding 190 ballots from the 2020 election that were never counted due to election worker errors. No member of the public knew about those ballots for close to a year when New Hampshire Journal broke the story in October.
Now, he is facing a write-in challenge for the town moderator position, and his nomination to the Circuit Court is being scrutinized ahead of a public hearing before the Executive Council.
In his lengthy statement to a private Facebook group this week, Shaughnessy claims there was no intentional cover-up of the ballots. He maintains he advised town officials not to discuss the situation in good faith.
“There was no effort to hide the ball or intention to cover this matter up. I would never be a party to that type of behavior,” Shaughnessy wrote.
Shaughnessy states that since the investigation into the 190 ballots carried the possibility of criminal charges, he recommended that Town Moderator Bill Klein, Town Clerk Sally Kellar, and others keep quiet until the investigation was complete.
“The Secretary of State’s Office was notified within 30 minutes of the discovery which was the appropriate chain of command. During a meeting after the discovery was made, I recommended, and everyone agreed, that we would notify the 190 voters and apologize that they were disenfranchised through an honest mistake. That would only be done, however, once we received permission from the Attorney General’s Office,” he wrote.
The town eventually did send out that letter, falsely claiming the Attorney General’s Office had ordered it to remain silent. Shaughnessy did not dispute the town’s claim at the time.
“I firmly believe every Bedford official acted in good faith, fully cooperated with the investigation, and did what he/she believed was in the best interests of election integrity as a whole,” he wrote on Friday.
Shaughnessy has taken heat for stating during a public hearing in November that he and Klein do not answer to the elected town council or the voters of Bedford. Instead, he argued, they answer to the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office. Hanan Wiseman, who is mounting a write-in campaign against Shaughnessy, is making the idea of accountability to voters a central part of his candidacy.
“We MUST have a town moderator who holds himself accountable to the voters. There is no way for the public to trust the integrity of the elections if the people who oversee the elections aren’t trustworthy and transparent,” Wiseman wrote on his website.
Last November, Klein and Kellar sent a letter to voters blaming their silence on the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, a claim that office refuted. Shaughnessy admitted providing the advice to remain silent, saying it was “haphazard legal advice.”
Anger over Shaughnessy’s actions is widespread in Bedford, with multiple calls for Shaughnessy’s resignation. Shaughnessy dismissed those demands by saying he has no office to resign from.
“I was not an elected official and only serve at each election at the discretion of the moderator that appoints me. There was no office for me to resign from since I am simply a volunteer who does not get paid and is not elected,” he wrote.
Town Council Chair Dave Gilbert said Friday that he agreed, saying that there is nothing for Shaughnessy to resign from as a volunteer. When pushed on whether or not Shaughnessy had a choice to keep a volunteer position or resign, Gilbert said, “I guess he could. The town council has nothing to do with that.”
When asked if he then agrees that Klein and Shaughnessy do not report to the town council, Gilbert got angry.
“This is why I don’t like to talk to you guys, you make stuff up,” he said before hanging up the phone.
Shaughnessy’s nomination to become a Superior Court judge will need the approval of the state’s Executive Council, which is taking up the matter on March 9 — the day after Bedford’s town elections.
Councilor Dave Wheeler (R-District 5) has come out against Sharughnessy’s appointment. Councilor Joseph Kenney (R-District 1) said he needs to know more before making a decision.
“At this point, I reserve all opinions until the public hearing,” Kenney said.
The other three councilors, Cinde Warmington (D-District 2), Ted Gatsas (R-District 4), and Janet Stevens (R-District 3) did not respond to requests for comment.
Their handling of Shaughnessy’s nomination is likely to be an issue in this year’s elections, particularly for GOP primary voters concerned about election integrity.
“The issue of election irregularities is proving to be a potent one,” said Windham Selectman Bruce Breton, a GOP activist and longtime Trump ally. Breton says Republicans concerned about ballot security are watching the Shaughnessy matter closely. And, he says, it is not just the GOP. “This issue reaches beyond just Republican voters.”
Bedford Republicans and political leaders are reluctant to criticize a Sununu nominee. However, they tell NHJournal off the record they fear the public hearing will reflect poorly on their local politics and raise embarrassing questions about why Sununu would nominate such a problematic pick.
“It’s going to be terrible for the town and everyone involved,” one GOP source told NHJournal.
The Attorney General’s Office completed its review of the town’s first ballot mishandling issue and is now conducting an investigation into the second case. It involves an undisclosed number of 2020 ballots discovered inside a ballot box in September and, like the first batch, kept secret. These ballots were counted during the 2020 election but left out of the recount.
Town officials were not notified about these ballots until November, and Gilbert warned town council members not to speak about the issue.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported Shaughnessy is being considered for a judgeship on the Superior Court. It is the Circuit Court. NHJournal regrets the error.