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AG Investigation Finds More Ballots from Bedford Election Fiasco

CONCORD — Two more uncounted absentee ballots from Bedford’s 2020 presidential election were found Wednesday as officials with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office conducted a public count of all the town’s absentee ballots. It is the next step in their ongoing investigation into the mishandled ballots from the affluent community’s 2020 general election.

Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards led the effort to open about a dozen ballot boxes and check every one of the more than 7,000 absentee ballots cast in 2020.

“We reviewed all of the absentee envelopes that were involved in the Bedford general election – which was more than 7,000, almost 8,000 envelopes – to make sure that there were no other ballots that hadn’t been counted,” Edwards said.

Anne Edwards of the NH Attorney General’s office and Bud Fitch with the Secretary of State’s office review uncounted ballots from the 2020 general election in Bedford.

Bedford’s ballot boxes were seized by the Attorney General’s Office late last year after town officials were caught trying to hide a ballot snafu from the public. Close to 190 uncounted absentee ballots were found in the days after the November 2020 election. Town election officials tried to keep news of the uncounted ballots from leaking to the public despite Edwards and her staff advising that the impacted voters ought to be told.

The counting of all absentee ballots took place at the New Hampshire State Archives building in Concord in public view. The process took six hours as officials with the state went through all the absentee ballots and then checked through the known 188 uncounted ballots.

Edwards and her team also examined a second batch of ballots from the same election that were part of the original election count but lost for the subsequent recount.  The ballots were reportedly discovered inside a box for a voting machine used in the September 2021 special election. Again, town officials tried to keep word of those ballots from spreading to Bedford voters. Edwards said the ballots should not have been laying around for close to a year.

“They should have been sealed at the end of the night and they should have been with the rest of the 2020 ballots, but they weren’t,” she said.

Edwards said a full report on what happened in Bedford is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Former Bedford Town Moderator Bill Klein, who was part of the attempt to keep the public in the dark about the ballots, said the town struggled in 2020 dealing with an unprecedented number of absentee ballots cast during the COVID-impacted election. More than 16,000 Bedford voters cast ballots that year, with close to 8,000 absentee ballots.

“Hopefully we’ll never have to go through this again, but honestly maybe things should have been done a little bit differently,” Klein said Wednesday.

The fallout from the ballot errors already cost current Town Moderator Brian Shaughnessy a shot at becoming a circuit court judge. In 2020, Shaughnessy was the assistant town moderator and was the first person to tell Klein to keep quiet about the ballots.

Former Bedford Town Moderator Bill Klein is on hand as state officials review the ballots left uncounted during the 2020 general election.

After being brought before the Town Council, Shaughnessy said one reason he and Klein did not tell anyone in town government about the ballots was to prevent members of the public from finding out.

“If we came to the Town Council while the (Attorney General’s Office) investigation is pending it becomes public knowledge,” Shaughnessy has said.

Shaughnessy’s actions in the drama cost him support from the Executive Council when his judicial nomination was considered last month.

Klein later tried to blame the lack of transparency on the Attorney General’s Office, but that version of events is disputed by Edwards. She took Klein to task in a letter she sent to Klein and other town officials last year.

“Our office never instructed you not to tell anyone of the incident involving the 190 uncounted absentee ballots,” Edwards wrote to Klein.

According to Edwards, Klein was told last summer that he needed to tell the voters whose ballots were not counted what had happened. Klein dragged his feet on the notifications, according to Edwards’s letter.

“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.”

Klein was directed to make the notification in August and again in September, and finally he was told by Edwards that he would have to make the notifications after the September special election. Klein finally told voters in October 2021.

Wednesday’s ballot examination in Concord was aimed in part at making sure all the people who had their ballots uncounted were in fact notified by Klein. State officials checked the names on the ballots against the names on the list of people the town had notified. No discrepancies were found during Wednesday’s examination.

Shaughnessy Grilled by Executive Councilors Over Bedford Ballots 

CONCORD — Judicial nominee Brian Shaughnessy recited the Serenity Prayer early in his testimony before the Executive Council on Wednesday, an apt sentiment given the rough day he had answering questions about the Bedford 2020 election snafu.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” he said, explaining his life philosophy. “I try to live by those rules; they guide my life.”

Several executive councilors were less than serene about Shaughnessy’s nomination.

Councilors Cinde Warmington (D-District 2), Janet Stevens (R-District 3), and Dave Wheeler (R-District 5) hammered Shaughnessy over his role in the investigation and coverup of 190 uncast ballots found after the 2020 presidential election. Shaughnessy was a volunteer assistant town moderator during that election, having previously served six years as the town moderator.

The most contentious issue was Shaughnessy’s strategy, which he presented as legal advice, for his fellow election officials to keep the fact they had bungled the absentee ballots secret from both the public and the elected town council.

Shaughnessy told Warmington under questioning he advised Town Clerk Sally Keller and Town Moderator Bill Klein not to talk about the matter until the Attorney General’s Office completed its investigation. However, when asked, Shaughnessy told council members no one from the Attorney General’s Office told him it was a criminal investigation.

That echoes another falsehood Shaughnessy acknowledged during a town hall meeting in November when he confirmed he had told town employees they could face criminal charges themselves — perhaps even felony charges — if they told the public about the election snafu. When questioned by the town council, Shaughnessy was unable to identify any such law.

Shaughnessy’s desire to keep the election fiasco secret was so strong, he told Warmington one reason he wanted Bedford election officials to keep the details from town council members was that it could create records that could be obtained by the public through the state’s Right to Know Law. 

“Anything told to the town council becomes public record,” he said.

Shaughnessy said he thought the investigation would be completed in a matter of weeks, and that would be the appropriate time to make public disclosures.

“We did not imagine it would be 11 months later that the Attorney General’s Office would complete their investigation,” he said. However, he didn’t explain why he and the other election officials continued to remain silent for nearly a year. 

Warmington took Shaughnessy to task for acting as Klein and Kellar’s de facto attorney, not making any public disclosure, and not contacting the town’s attorney about the matter. The ballot problems were not made public until NH Journal broke the story.

“Did you ever have concerns that keeping this secret would undermine Bedford voters’ confidence about elections?” Warmington asked.

Stevens wanted to know why Shaughnessy, or anyone involved, didn’t at least check with the Attorney General’s Office to see if it could make some kind of statement as the weeks and months passed. Shaughnessy conceded that could have been done, but he did not want to cast blame on others.

“Had I been moderator, would it have been different? More than likely, yes. But I’m not going to put that clickbait out there. That serves no purpose,” he said. “I’m not going to throw anybody under the bus.”

According to Anne Edwards of the Attorney General’s Office, its staff “had follow-up conversations with Bedford election officials, during August and September, about the need to provide notification to the 190 voters that their absentee ballots had not been counted during the 2020 General Election.

Bedford election officials raised concerns with this notification and asked not to notify voters,” Edwards said.

Klein testified in Shaughnessy’s favor, saying his assistant town moderator was not part of the problem, nor was he a subject of the investigation.

“He had nothing to do with any of that stuff,” Klein said.

Councilor Joe Kenney (R-District 1) did n0t mention the Bedford issue but instead asked Shaughnessy about tenant law and his resume. Councilor Ted Gatsas (R-District 4), who represents Bedford, asked no questions.

While Shaughnessy fielded some tough questions from the council members, several supporters testified on his behalf, including New Hampshire Supreme Court Associate Justice Jim Bassett.

“Having somebody like Brian on the bench would be an incredible asset,” Bassett said.

The council will now likely take up Shaughnessy’s nomination at its April meeting for a vote. In the meantime, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has opened a second investigation into Bedford’s ballots. In September, 10 ballots from 2020 were found in a ballot box, and that information was kept from the public until NH Journal reported the story.

The Attorney General’s Office is investigating the circumstances surrounding the handling of those 10 ballots and has reopened the investigation into the 190 ballots. Shaughnessy said he is not a subject in either investigation.

“I think that with the immediacy of how things happen, I understand how you can make the decisions that are not the best in the moment,” Warmington told Shaughnessy as she wrapped up her questions. “But keeping that secret really did a disservice to the (town) council and the public.”