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SHAUGHNESSY: There Was No Cover-Up In Bedford Ballot Case

Brian Shaughnessy, a candidate for Bedford Town Moderator in the March 8 municipal elections, played a key role in the November 2020 elections in which two sets of ballots were mishandled and town officials kept the mistake a secret for nearly a year.

NHJournal’s reporting on the story can be found here, here and here.

Shaughnessy has since been nominated by Gov. Chris Sununu to serve as a Circuit Court judge. One of the five members of the Executive Council has already urged Sununu to withdraw the nomination.

Shaughnessy posted the following on Facebook Friday:


My name is Brian Shaughnessy and I am running unopposed for Bedford Town Moderator.

There is a write-in candidate, Hanan Wiseman, who has a website that contains false and misleading information about me. Mr. Wiseman’s website states: “We CANNOT allow someone like Brian Shaughnessy who is compromised and came under investigation from the Attorney General’s office for mishandling the 2020 election, then lied about it to the voters here in Bedford to oversee elections!”

He also states that I have said I do not work for the voters. In his defense, he is getting this inaccurate information from several stories and social media discussions that allege my involvement in a cover-up, and allegedly lying to voters in a letter I did not author or send. Almost all of this speculation and innuendo are inaccurate at best, and purposefully false at worst.

I am not the Town Moderator, I am not under investigation, I did not send any letter to the voters. I did not handle any of the ballots that are the subject of recent articles, nor was I in any way involved with the mistakes that were made, training the dozens of new election workers required to process the 7,700 absentee ballots received by Bedford for the 2020 COVID general election, or communicating any information to the state, town, or voters. I am an unpaid election volunteer performing my civic duty.

An honest mistake was made. After the November 3, 2020 election, the Assistant Town Clerk could not reconcile the number of ballots issued with the number of votes cast. This is a standard report/ reconciliation that is required to be filed with the Secretary of State’s office to assure the integrity of the election and guard against any ballot box stuffing or other attempts to “rig” an election.

As required by law, the NH Attorney General’s office conducted an investigation. Its report dated October 21, 2021, found no wrongdoing and determined that an election worker inadvertently moved a container of 190 uncounted absentee ballots which had been pre-opened per COVID related protocols to the table where the empty absentee ballot envelopes, which are required by law to be preserved for 3 years, were being stored for eventual transfer back to Town Hall for storage. After finding the unopened uncast absentee ballots, the Town Clerk immediately contacted the Secretary of State’s office and reported the discovery.

I was not the subject of the investigation or at any time “under investigation.” I was a witness in that investigation.

There was no lie. A letter sent by Moderator Klein and Town Clerk Gellar to the 190 absentee voters indicated that they were advised to not discuss this matter with anyone, not even the Town Council, because it was the subject of a pending investigation. In a detailed letter I sent to the Town Council prior to a November 17, 2021, Council meeting (both of which are public record), apologizing to the Council that it was left in the dark for 11 months while the Attorney General’s office was investigating the matter, I acknowledged that the Klein/Gellar letter could have been more articulately phrased, but that letter did not state that Bedford election officials were “ordered” by the Attorney General’s office to not discuss the matter with anyone while the investigation was pending.

The advice to not discuss matters relating to the pending investigation came from me, as a lawyer, advising someone who is the subject [of] a pending investigation that could support criminal charges (see RSA 661). Any notification to the Town Council would be subject to RSA 91-A (the right to know law), and any public statements could become fodder for social media which could impact the pending investigation. Standard legal advice.

Despite an accusation made by a Town Councilor during the November 17, 2021, Town Council meeting that my legal advice was “haphazard’: it is the same legal advice Moderator Klein and Clerk Gellar subsequently received from the Town Attorney.

I did not state election officials do not work for the voters. At the Town Council meeting, I responded to a particular question to me that incorrectly stated that the Town Moderator, an elected official, had a duty to report to the Town Council. The Town Councilor who made the inaccurate statement demanded that all of the Town officials who knew about the uncast absentee ballots and did not report it to the Town Council should resign. I responded that both the Town Moderator and the Town Clerk are also elected officers, and as Election Officials, they report to the Secretary of State’s office on election matters, which they did in this case, and not the Town Council (see NH Constitution, Part 2, Article 32 and RSA 659:60).

I further pointed out that I could not resign as demanded because 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. Bill Klein was very pointed in his statements that election officials are accountable to the voters.

From those statements, it is being reported, and repeated, that I have stated that we do not work for the voters and have no obligation to be transparent to the voters. Simply not true.

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.

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. We had no idea that the report would not be finalized until 11 months later, but Moderator Klein and the Town Manager knew from the beginning that at the conclusion of the Attorney General’s investigation, a report would be sent to the Town at which point it becomes a public document.

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.

I agreed to run for Town Moderator again after Bill Klein indicated he was stepping down, and no one else signed up for the job. Today, more than ever, we need experienced people running our elections.


EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story reported Shaughnessy is being considered for a Superior Court judgeship. It is the Circuit Court. NHJournal regrets the error.

EC Wheeler: Sununu Judicial Pick Has ‘Integrity’ Problem, Gov Should Dump Him

Executive Councilor Dave Wheeler says Gov. Chris Sununu’s troubled judicial pick Brian Shaughnessy doesn’t belong on the bench, and he should withdraw from consideration. And if he doesn’t, Sununu should pull the nomination himself.

Wheeler’s announcement adds to the growing speculation that Shaughnessy’s nomination will not make it through the Executive Council.

Shaughnessy, who served as assistant town moderator, is best known for his role in the town of Bedford’s bungled 2020 elections and urging his fellow town officials to keep their mistakes secret from the public. Rather than stepping back, Shaughnessy is currently a candidate for the town moderator position, a move that is raising its own ethical questions.

NHJournal reached out to all five members of the Executive Council. Only one would speak on the record, and his message to fellow Republican Chris Sununu was clear.

“I have received many calls from citizens questioning his integrity and asking me to oppose his nomination,” Wheeler told NHJournal. “Mr. Shaughnessy should withdraw himself from nomination.”

If he doesn’t, Sununu should pull his name from consideration, Wheeler added.

And, Wheeler said, “If neither happens before his public hearing, [Shaughnessy] has a lot of explaining to do!”

Assuming Democrat Cinde Warmington opposes Shaughnessy’s nomination, that puts the problematic pick just one vote away from defeat on the 4-1 GOP-controlled Council. Sources close to the remaining Executive Councilors say there is little support for Sununu’s nominee among Republican councilors, who are hearing grassroots opposition to the nomination.

Few Republicans want to criticize the popular Republican governor on the record; but behind the scenes, some of his supporters are irate that is he is recharging the election-integrity issue.

Sununu did not respond to a request for comment.

One person willing to speak was former Town Councilor Kelleigh Murphy, who cast a vote of”no confidence” last November over Shaughnessy’s mishandling of ballots and declaration that the councilors, and the voters of Bedford, had no right to know what election officials were doing.

“We don’t work for you,” Shaugnessy told the town council.

Murphy told NHJournal on Tuesday, “I don’t think it’s an appropriate nomination. The judiciary is the highest echelon of the legal profession, and nominees to and those holding that honor should (and typically are) reflective of the highest level of character and fitness.”

Days after the November 2020 general election, a tray of 190 uncounted absentee ballots was discovered in Bedford. Rather than reveal the mistake, Shaughnessy advised the town moderator and other officials to inform the Secretary of State but leave the town council and disenfranchised voters in the dark. It was nearly a year before the truth came out, at which time the town sent a letter falsely claiming the state Attorney General’s office instructed it to hide the error.

Shaughnessy has since acknowledged he was the source of the “haphazard legal advice” that kept voters from finding out what town officials had done.

A few weeks later, another stack of mishandled ballots was discovered by Bedford officials. Again the town refused to reveal basic details about the ballots to the public. The town is currently under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office over the second tranche of ballots.

And Shaughnessy’s troubles may not end there.

An email is circulating within Bedford legal and political circles raising questions about the ethics of Shaughnessy campaigning for the town moderator position in the March 8 election. The email includes a link to the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct, specifically Canon 4: “A Judge Or Candidate For Judicial Office Shall Not Engage In Political Or Campaign Activity That Is Inconsistent With The Independence, Integrity, Or Impartiality Of The Judiciary.”

A Bedford attorney who asked to remain anonymous said there was a general unease with the idea of Shaughessy running for office as a judicial candidate and, even more, serving as both a judge and the town’s top election official.

“Elections are politicized now. There are all kinds of questions and conspiracies. People aren’t saying it’s illegal or even wrong [for Shaughnessy to hold both jobs], but they aren’t happy about it, either.”

Hanan Wiseman is running for town moderator as a write-in candidate. He tells NHJournal voters are raising the issue of Shaughnessy’s judicial nominee when he’s out campaigning.

“I’m not finding any support for [Shaughnessy] or his judgeship,” Wiseman said. “And a lot of people don’t believe the Executive Council will approve him.”

Shaughnessy declined to respond to a request for comment.

Defiant Bedford Town Officials: ‘We Did The Right Thing’ Keeping Ballot Fiasco Secret

The four Bedford town officials responsible for keeping 190 mishandled ballots a secret for nearly a year were defiant in the face of a “no confidence” vote Wednesday night, insisting they did the right thing by leaving town councilors and the public in the dark.

Town Manager Rick Sawyer, Town Clerk Sally Kellar, Town Moderator William Klein, and Assistant Town Moderator Brian Shaughnessy all narrowly survived a 4-3 vote on the “no-confidence” resolution.

The vote was the conclusion of a contentious hearing during which Shaughnessy acknowledged he — and not the Secretary of State’s or Attorney General’s Office — was the source of the legal strategy not to inform the town council of the uncounted ballots from the 2020 general election. The year-long delay and bureaucratic secrecy have been seized upon by supporters of former President Donald  Trump’s unfounded “stolen election” conspiracy as proof that the 2020 election results are suspect.

Wednesday night’s meeting was the first time town officials or town councilors had discussed the ballot fiasco in public. Only Klein and Shaughnessy were on hand to answer questions. Town Clerk Sally Kellar was attending an out-of-town event and chose not to participate remotely.

Town Councilor Kelleigh Murphy did participate via telephone, but the distance didn’t prevent her from making her anger felt inside Town Hall.

“You had a duty to tell the council. It is absolutely deplorable that this information was kept from us. I don’t think anyone who knew about it at the time and kept it secret should be involved in town government,” Murphy said. “I feel very strongly about that.”

Everyone agreed the mishandling of 190 absentee ballots was a simple mistake. A tray of uncounted ballots was erroneously placed among ballots that had been counted. The anger, from elected officials and the public, was in response to the decision of both state and local officials to keep the mistake a secret until just weeks ago.

The already-troubling story took a bizarre turn when Kellar and Klein mailed a letter last month claiming the Attorney General’s Office ordered them to hide the mistake from the public.

The Attorney General’s Office responded with a letter of its own contradicting the claim and putting the burden back on Bedford’s town officials.

“Bedford election officials raised concerns with this notification and asked (us) not to notify voters,” the Attorney General’s general counsel Anne Edwards told NHJournal. “I would never say that about an elected official lied,” Edwards said of the letter from Keller and Klein. “We felt it was important to issue a clarification because we were concerned about the accuracy of some of the statements.”

But Wednesday night, Shaugnessy admitted he was the source of the strategy of silence, not state officials.

“Our decision that was made at the beginning [November 2020] was that until the Attorney General’s Office investigates and speaks to us, we shouldn’t be talking to anyone. The Attorney General’s investigation is a criminal investigation. Sally and Bill could be subject to criminal penalties, including a felony. I didn’t think it was a good idea for them to talk to anybody.”

But, Murphy responded, Shaughnessy isn’t the town attorney. “Did you consult with the town attorney or just give out haphazard legal advice?”

“I gave out haphazard legal advice,” Shaughnessy replied. “I did not check with the town attorney.”

Shaughnessy also didn’t explain what possible felony the town Clerk or Moderator could have committed by telling voters about the uncounted ballots, a claim several New Hampshire attorneys found laughable.

Councilor Denise Ricciardi, who also serves as a state Senator and whose election was subject to a recount that would have involved the mishandled ballots, asked Shaughnessy where the Secretary of State or Attorney General got the authority to order the town’s elected officials to keep the ballot screw-up a secret. “Is there a law or a statute?”

After a long pause, Shaughnessy acknowledged: “I am not aware of any law or statute that allows them to order people to keep things quiet.”

In the end, both Klein and Shaunessy were defiant, stating flatly that they don’t answer to the council and are free to deny them information about elections if they choose.

“We believe we did the right thing,” Klein said. “We report to the Secretary of State. We do not report to the Town Council.”

After that, it became clear there would be a no-confidence vote called by Murphy.

“The town council is the town governing body. Rick Sawyer had a duty to let the council know what was going on,” Murphy said. “I understand why people lose faith in government. This never should have happened. It is completely unacceptable.”

Both Murphy and councilor  Bill Duschatko expressed their disappointment with the defiant stance of the town officials, who continued to insist they did nothing wrong.

“There is no remorse there,”  Bill Duschatko said. “It’s just another day of doing business.”

Bill Duschatko, Murphy, and Ricciardi cast the three votes in favor of the “no confidence” resolution. Councilors Bill Carter, Lori Radke, Sue Thomas and Chairman David Gilbert voted against it.

Ray Chadwick of the Bedford Republican Committee was on hand. The committee has called for a full investigation and, he told NHJournal, Wednesday night’s hearing fell far short of that. “We still need a full and thorough accounting of what happened. We did not get one tonight,” Chadwick said.


EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article misidentified one of the members of the town council who voted against the “no confidence” resolution as Melissa Stephens. It was Bill Carter. We regret the error.

Bedford Ballot ‘Fiasco’ On Wednesday’s Town Council Agenda

More than a year after the ballots of 190 Bedford voters were erroneously left uncounted, Bedford will hold its first public hearing on the “ballot fiasco” during this Wednesday night’s town council meeting. The existence of the ballots was kept secret by Bedford town officials, including Town Clerk Sally Kellar, Town Moderator William Klein, and other town officials.

NHJournal was the first media outlet to report on the ballot mishandling, nearly a year after the 190 absentee ballots went uncounted on Election Day 2020.

The public notice for this Wednesday’s Bedford Town Council meeting includes the line: “Discussion of November 2020 election ballot matter.” No other information is included. The public is welcome to attend and ask questions.

Town officials declined to respond to requests for comment from NHJournal, as they have largely done since the story first broke. However, state Sen. Denise Ricciardi, who also serves on the council, did release a brief statement.

“I am very happy to see this issue is going to be addressed in public. As a public servant and elected official, transparency has always been very important to me,” Ricciardi said. “I’m glad this is on the agenda because answers are needed. I just want the truth — why was this kept from both the public and the town council for a year?”

While there is general agreement on what happened to the ballots during the 2020 general election — a tray of uncounted absentee ballots was mistakenly placed among those already counted — it’s the behavior of town officials after the error was discovered that has angered many Bedford residents. It has also fed suspicions among some Granite Staters who are already concerned about ballot security.

Rather than publicly acknowledging the mistake at the time, Town Manager Kellar and Moderator Klein chose to reach out to the secretary of state’s office, which then contacted the Attorney General’s Office. Town officials, including Deputy Clerk Gloria MacVane, Town Manager Rick Sawyer, and Assistant Moderator Brian Shaughnessy, kept the disenfranchising of Bedford voters a secret even as the secretary of state was conducting a recount of the local state Senate race the following week.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner told NHJournal he was unaware of the ballots during the recount as well.

In a letter mailed to the disenfranchised voters on October 30, Kellar and Klein blamed their secrecy on the Attorney General’s Office.

“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,” they claimed.

The Attorney General’s Office responded by saying that claim was untrue, and that it first learned town officials were blaming the office for the secrecy from NHJournal.

“Our Office learned of your October 28 letter concerning uncounted absentee ballots through [NHJournal’s coverage] on Saturday, October 30,” Anne M. Edwards, the attorney general’s general counsel said in a letter to town officials. “We are concerned, in particular, by three statements in your letter: 1) that the Attorney General’s Office instructed you not to tell anyone, including the Bedford Town Council, about the 190 uncounted absentee ballots; 2) that you made numerous attempts to obtain a resolution from our Office; and 3) that our October 21 closure letter was essentially the first explanation from us as to the necessary remediation plan.

“These statements are inaccurate,” Edwards wrote.

Bedford town officials have insisted to NHJournal the Attorney General’s Office was behind the delay, while that office has communications showing it was pressuring the town to make the information public. Both sides agree the process largely came to a halt in the lead up to the September 7, 2021 special election to fill a state House seat vacancy.

The winner of that special election, Rep. Catherine Rombeau, joined fellow Bedford Democrat Rep. Sue Mullen in a statement calling for a full investigation.

“We are perplexed by the length of time it took to conduct the investigation and conflicting accounts from local officials, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, and the New Hampshire secretary of state’s office,” the Democrats said. “We call for a thorough and transparent explanation of the timeline of events, decisions made throughout this process, and communications between these three groups. It is of utmost importance for Bedford voters to know these facts.”

The Bedford Republican Committee echoed those sentiments.

“The integrity of our elections, and the reliable processing of ballots, is critical to maintaining the allegiance of citizens to our system of government. It is of utmost importance, then, that we respect the efforts of these 190 voters to participate in the election. They and the public deserve a thorough investigation and determination of why their votes were not counted and were kept secret for nearly a year,” the committee said in a statement.

Meanwhile, nobody has answered the question many citizens have asked: Why didn’t some elected official at the state or local level simply make the error public? While the Attorney General’s Office as a policy doesn’t comment regarding ongoing investigations, no law or policy prevented either former Attorney General Gordon MacDonald or current Attorney General John Formella from telling the public about the matter

And even if the Attorney General’s Office did ask town officials to keep the information secret, the elected officials chosen by the voters of Bedford were not legally bound by that request.

“I just feel so angry,” said Shannon McGinley, whose two sons were among the 190 disenfranchised voters. “I understand accidents happen. But it seems that someone is lying and that there was a cover-up. And that really makes me mad.”

190 Uncounted Ballots From Bedford’s 2020 Election Kept Secret for a Year, Town Blames AG

A year after the election that swept President Donald Trump out of office and New Hampshire Republicans into power, some 190 ballots cast by Bedford voters remain uncounted, NHJournal has learned.

The misplaced absentee ballots, which were discovered just days after the November 3, 2020 election, were kept secret from Town Council and the voters impacted for a year.

Town officials claim in a letter sent to the disenfranchised voters they kept the blunder secret under orders from the state Attorney General’s office, then headed by AG Gordon MacDonald.

The AG’s office disputes that claim.

“In reviewing this matter, this Office concludes that these 190 absentee ballots would not have impacted the outcome of any of the races on the ballot in Bedford during the 2020 general election,” Myles Matteson of the Attorney General’s office wrote Bedford town officials in a letter dated October 21, 2021. A copy of that letter is being sent to the 190 or so residents who cast votes last November by Bedford Town Clerk Sally Kellar and Town Moderator William Klein.

Those ballots remain unopened and uncounted.

According to Matteson, the existence of the uncast absentee ballots was discovered soon after the election.

“Deputy Clerk [Gloria] Mac Vane was reconciling the number of ballots distributed with the number of ballots cast. During this process, she discovered that there was a difference of approximately 190 fewer ballots cast than the number distributed. The amount of absentee ballots recorded received was 7,917. The total number of absentee ballots recorded cast was 7,727,” Matteson wrote.

“On November 8, 2020, Deputy Clerk MacVane attributed the cause of this discrepancy to a mistake made during the processing of absentee ballots on election day [sic].”

Because the ballots were kept secret, they were also kept out of the Bedford recount in the state Senate District 9 race between then-incumbent Jeanne Dietsch and newly-elected Republican Denise Ricciardi. That recount was held on November 1o, after the uncast ballots were discovered.

Dietsch called off the recount when the results began to benefit Ricciardi. Ricciardi’s official victory as reported by the Secretary of State’s office was 17,920 to 17,511, but that doesn’t include changes discovered in the uncompleted recount.

Why weren’t the ballots simply counted on November 8? Why was their existence kept secret? Why weren’t they used in the recount?

Kellar and Klein point the finger at the Secretary of State and Attorney General.

“When we discovered [the uncast ballots], we immediately reported it to the New Hampshire Secretary of State,” they wrote in their letter to the impacted Bedford voters. “We were advised to keep these ballots secure and to wait further instructions before taking any further action. The following week, we were informed that the matter had been referred to the NH Attorney General’s office for investigation. 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,” Kellar and Klein said.

Officials in the AG’s office say they never instructed the town to keep the incident secret from either the Town Council or the general public.

This story is unfolding with the ongoing debate over the legitimacy of the 2020 election in the background. Political insiders with knowledge of the events speculate that decisions made by the Attorney General’s Office may have been influenced by events in Windham when voting machine error caused a significant error in the first results reported. Supporters of Trump’s frequently-repeated (and frequently debunked) claims the election was stolen due to widespread election fraud have used the Windham incident to support their calls for a statewide election audit in New Hampshire.

“The Attorney General’s Office saw this unfolding and they didn’t want to add fuel to the fire,” one source suggested.

MacDonald is currently serving as Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.


NOTE: This story has been updated to include new information revealed by the Attorney General’s office, and later confirmed by town officials.