More trouble for Bedford’s beleaguered election officials as the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has announced an “additional investigation” into the botched ballots from the town’s 2020 and 2021 elections.
Deputy General Counsel Myles Matteson filed a motion in the Hillsborough Superior Court – North in Manchester seeking a court order to open sealed ballot boxes and a sealed envelope containing election reports as part of the investigation, which was started after new information came to light.
“While it is clear that a number of absentee ballots were not cast and counted by Bedford election officials on November 3, 2020, important details that led to the error – and an accounting of officials’ attempts to reconcile the election returns – have yet to be determined,” Matteson wrote in the court filing. “Based on new information provided more recently through further interviews with Bedford officials, the attorney general must conduct additional investigation related to compliance with election laws.”
Bedford election officials mishandled 190 ballots during the 2020 election and those ballots were never counted. They compounded that error by covering up the mistake for 11 months, not telling the elected town council, and keeping it secret from the disenfranchised voters. Now, the Attorney General’s Office wants a full accounting of all mishandled ballots and full disclosure to the impacted voters.
“The purpose of the tally is to verify that the number of ballots—and the names on the affidavit envelopes—match the list created by Bedford election officials, to ensure that all voters whose ballots were not counted were properly notified,” Matteson told NH Journal.
The Attorney General’s Office began investigating the bungled ballots starting in November 2020, soon after being notified about the problem. Town election officials did not make any disclosure about the ballots until October 2021, after NH Journal broke the story.
According to a letter from the Attorney General’s Office sent to Bedford officials last year, the town was supposed to notify the 190 voters whose ballots were uncounted. Bill Klein, who was the Town Moderator during the election and subsequent fallout, made repeated claims to the contrary, saying he was directed by the attorney general to keep mum about the ballots.
“I was persistent in contacting (the Attorney General’s Office), because I thought it was wrong to not do something, including telling you and the voters way back as soon as we could,” he told town council members after the issue came to light in November 2021.
However, General Counsel Anne Edwards sent Klein and town election officials a scathing letter in November setting the record straight.
“At no time did the Attorney General’s Office direct the Bedford Election officials not to explain the situation with the 190 absentee ballots to the town council or any other person,” Edwards wrote.
According to Edwards, Klein could have disclosed the issue any time he wanted. And, she said, the town was specifically told to make that disclosure to voters starting in June and July 2021. Klein and others did not want to tell voters, according to Edwards.
“Since early June, our office has been in contact with Bedford election officials regarding possible remediation plans and investigative interviews,” Edwards wrote. “During those conversations, Bedford election officials raised concerns that they did not want to notify voters of the fact that their ballots were not counted. Our office directed that such a notification was a requirement of any remediation plan.”
While Klein’s claim the Attorney General’s office demanded silence was incorrect, someone did, in fact, instruct him to leave voters and the town council in the dark: Attorney and then-assistant Town Moderator Brian Shaughnessy.
Long after the letter with the false claim had been mailed to voters, Shaughnessy publicly acknowledged he had given the problematic legal advice to his fellow town officials. Shaughnessy admitted it during the November 2021 town council meeting and during the New Hampshire Executive Council hearing on his nomination to become a circuit court judge. (The GOP-controlled Council rejected Shaughnessy’s nomination by a 4-1 vote.)
Shaughnessy said he thought the investigation would be over in a matter of weeks, not months, and the information would come out. He also claimed the Attorney General’s Office never gave Klein permission to go public.
“The Attorney General investigation was a criminal investigation, and [Town Clerk] Sally [Kellar] and Bill [Klein] could be subject to criminal penalties including felonies,” he told the town council. “I told them to get permission from the Attorney General’s Office to share and they never received that permission until after the report came out.”
The Attorney General’s report came out in October 2021.
Klein also maintained that he never got permission to make the disclosure despite repeated calls to the Attorney General’s Office.
“I said, ‘Please get this thing going because we want to be able to get it over with. We want to be able to tell people, especially the voters,” Klein told the town council.
Edwards stated that was not true.
“Our office never instructed you not to tell anyone of the incident involving the 190 uncounted absentee ballots,” Edwards wrote to Klein.
While Shaughessy said he did not want the issue to become public, and told Klein and others not to talk, he also claimed there was no intention to hide the errors, given that the Attorney General’s Office would make the matter public at some point.
“It would be pure lunacy for them to try and hide this knowing that that (attorney general’s) letter was going to be issued, you would be notified, so there was no ill motive here to hide the ball. Who wins by hiding the ball?” Shaughnessy said.
But Klein did want to hide the ball, as it were, and dragged his feet on the notifications, according to Edwards. He was directed to make the notification in August and September and was finally told he would have to make the notifications after the September special election.
During that special election, another unknown number of uncounted ballots were found from previous elections. That was kept quiet until November and resulted in another Attorney General’s Office investigation, which is also ongoing.
The Attorney General’s Office has received permission from the courts to open the ballot boxes and envelopes in the Bedford case. Edwards told NHJournal it is part of the office’s due diligence.
“We are taking this very seriously. We want to confirm that any voter whose ballot wasn’t counted is notified and they have the information they have a right to,” Edwards said. “With respect to the ballots found during the 2021 special election, we want to confirm how many ballots there are, and if the number could have impacted the outcome of any race.
“That’s always a great concern to us,” Edwards said.