In yet another stunning revelation in the saga of Bedford’s uncounted ballots, the state’s top election official tells NHJournal he knew nothing about the matter until he read the coverage at NHJournal. And, he says, he was not informed of the decision to ask the attorney general to get involved.

The story began the Friday after the November 2020 election when Bedford town election officials realized 190 absentee ballots that had been received weren’t counted on Election Day due to an error. According to a now-contested letter from Town Clerk Sally Kellar and Town Moderator William Klein, the town promptly informed Secretary of State Bill Gardner’s office of the issue.

“The following week, we were informed that the matter had been referred [by the Secretary of State’s office] to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office for investigation,” Kellar and Klein wrote in a letter to the 190 voters whose ballots were mishandled. “The attorney general requested some information from us and we submitted it on November 19, 2020. We were told not to discuss this with anyone, not even the town council, because it was a pending investigation,” town officials claimed.

All parties agree that the Secretary of State’s office was involved, but whether the Secretary himself was involved is less clear.

“I’ve never talked to anyone from Bedford about those ballots. And I’ve never talked to anyone in the attorney general’s office about those ballots,” Gardner to NHJournal Monday. “This morning is when I heard about [the NHJournal] story- so I’m trying to figure out myself what really happened.”

Is it possible the decision to refer an incident involving such a large number of ballots would be made in the secretary of state’s office but without Gardner’s knowledge?

“They didn’t talk to me. And I don’t know, at this point, who they talked to. No one talked to me about this — and we had a recount,” Gardner noted.

The general counsel for the attorney general, Anne M. Edwards, told NHJournal her office was informed by the Secretary of State’s elections counsel Bud Fitch. She would not discuss if there had been any communications between the Attorney General’s Office and Gardner.

Asked if referring the Bedford case to the attorney general was a significant decision that the secretary should have been involved in, Gardner simply said, “Yeah.”

Even more disturbing, Gardner said, was the fact that he oversaw the Bedford recount personally and was never told there were another 190 ballots. “Nobody ever told me,” he insisted.

There weren’t enough ballots to change the outcome of the Dietsch-Ricciardi state Senate race (Ricciardi defeated the incumbent Democrat) or any other races on the misplaced ballots. But at a time when distrust over the handling of elections is running high, the idea of election officials keeping 190 ballots a secret for almost an entire year is problematic.

Like his counterparts in the Attorney General’s Office, Gardner and his team appeared to be caught off-guard by the town of Bedford’s letter to voters claiming they wanted to let the public know about their Election Day mishap but were stopped by state officials.

“At this point, all I have is speculation. I’m still looking into it,” Gardner said. “I’m really flabbergasted by this.”