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Former Merrimack Dem Charged in Election Phone Jamming Scheme

A Merrimack man and former Democratic candidate for state representative, Michael Drouin, is accused of jamming the cell phone of a GOP candidate during a special election last year.

Drouin, 30, was indicted this week by the grand jury convened in the Hillsborough Superior Court — South on one felony count of interference with election communications connected to the April 13, 2021, Hillsborough District 21 special election to replace House Speaker Dick Hinch (R-Merrimack).

Drouin allegedly took out a Craigslist classified ad offering a free trailer in the Nashua area and listed the cell phone number for Merrimack Republican Bill Boyd in the ad. Boyd eventually won the election to replace Hinch, who died from COVID-19, beating former Democratic Rep. Wendy Thomas with 2,531 votes to Thomas’ 2,144.

“That election day was chaotic,” said Rep. Joe Sweeney (R-Salem) who was with Boyd that day. “(Boyd) was getting dozens of calls asking about this free trailer.”

Boyd had already posted his personal cell phone number to Facebook on election day as part of an effort to get voters to the polls. Boyd was anticipating hearing from voters who needed a ride, and instead got call after call from people asking about the free trailer, Sweeney said.

Boyd declined to comment on the charges when reached Wednesday. Drouin did not respond to a request for comment.

On the day of the election, Sweeney filed a complaint with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, which had the ad removed from Craigslist. Investigators zeroed in on Drouin as the ad’s creator, though he initially denied he was behind the free trailer stunt. When investigators told Drouin they had evidence linking him to the ad, Drouin then claimed he created the ad as a “poorly timed” joke. Sweeney said that excuse does not fly.

“Him trying to play it off as a badly timed joke seems insincere to me,” Sweeney said.

Drouin now faces up to three and a half years in prison if convicted, as well as the prospect of being barred from voting in New Hampshire. Drouin ran an unsuccessful campaign for state representative as a Democratic in 2018, though he has reportedly dropped that affiliation and is now labeled as an independent. He is currently an alternate member of the Merrimack Conservation Commission.

Sweeney said Election Day shenanigans like Drouin’s are unusual in New Hampshire. 

“I can’t think of a similar scenario where someone puts up a candidate’s phone number to mess with him on election day. I really don’t know what this guy was thinking,” Sweeney said.

The charges come at a problematic time for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, which has been plagued by charges of election interference and dirty tricks in the past few months.

During the run-up to this year’s midterms, for example,  Democrats were hit with a cease and desist order from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office over illegal mailers. Those mailers, paid for by the state Democratic Party, solicited absentee ballot requests be sent to a non-existent government agency. It also included false claims about voter histories, according to the order issued by Attorney General John Formella.

“In light of our conclusion that the NHDP has caused voter confusion given the incorrect return addresses to clerks on its mailers, the incorrect direction to non-existent ‘boards of election,’ and the incorrect voter domicile information, the NHDP is hereby ordered to cease and desist any and all activities which violate the law by causing voter confusion in the future,” Formella wrote.

And just last month, Fomella’s office said Democrat Steve Marchand lied about his role in a political scheme targeting his opponents in Portsmouth.

Marchand, a progressive Democrat who once served as Portsmouth mayor and sought his party’s nomination for governor, was issued a letter of warning to Marchand for his involvement in Preserve-Portsmouth.com and other websites that targeted sitting city council members in the last municipal election.

Marchand’s bogus website was built to mirror a legitimate site with a similar name, Preserve Portsmouth, and purported to support the same city council candidates the original site endorsed. But it falsely described them as far-right Trump supporters. According to documents obtained by the Attorney General’s Office, Marchand wanted to depress voter turnout among Republicans to benefit Democrats on the ballot.

Democrats are also accused of sending illegal mailers supporting MAGA Republican candidate Bob Burns in the Second Congressional District GOP primary.

The Reynolds DeWalt Corporation, a Democrat-aligned mail firm based in Massachusetts, sent the four mailers promoting Burns in the GOP primary, helping him defeat mainstream GOP candidate Mayor George Hansel of Keene. Burns, who won 33 percent of the vote, beat Hansel by fewer than 1,800 votes.

According to a complaint filed by the state GOP, the mailers were illegal because they “failed to identify in the mailers who sent them, including a failure to provide ‘paid for by’ disclaimers on multiple mass mailings.”

The Attorney General’s Office contacted Reynolds DeWalt about the mailers before the primary. It refused to tell the attorney general who paid for them. The company is represented by the law firm of Hillary Clinton’s former attorney Marc Elias, the attorney responsible for funding and disseminating the “Steele Dossier” that helped feed the claim of collusion between Russia and the Trump 2016 presidential campaign.

 

Longtime Dem Marchand Busted by AG for Bogus Campaign Website

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office said Democrat Steve Marchand lied about his role in a political scheme targeting his opponents in Portsmouth.

Marchand, a progressive Democrat who once served as Portsmouth mayor and sought his party’s nomination for governor, will not face criminal charges, the office said in a letter. Instead, it issued a letter of warning to Marchand for his involvement in Preserve-Portsmouth.com and other websites that targeted sitting city council members in the last municipal election.

“It’s pretty bad,” said Peter Whelan, one of the Portsmouth councilors targeted.

Whelan, Councilors Susan Paige Trace, Ester Kennedy, Greg Mahanna, Petra Huda, and Mayor Rick Becksted were all targeted by anonymous websites, fliers, and robotexts operated by Marchand, according to Myles Matteson with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.

“It was shameful. There were robotexts sent by the thousands,” Whelan said.

Trace said the attorney general’s investigation revealed there was an effort to mislead the voters of Portsmouth.

“It’s about being transparent and behaving in an honorable manner,” Trace said.

All of the candidates targeted by Marchand were defeated. Current Portsmouth Mayor Deaglan McEachern declined to comment, as he had not seen Matteson’s letter.

“I didn’t have any interaction with the (Marchand) in my campaign,” McEachern said. “I have no idea what the former mayor was doing or not doing.”

Marchand did not respond to a request for comment. His attorney, Joseph Foster, is currently out of the country and unable to be reached.

Marchand’s bogus website was built to mirror a legitimate site with a similar name, Preserve Portsmouth, and purported to support the same city council candidates the original site endorsed. But it falsely described them as far-right Trump supporters. According to documents obtained by the Attorney General’s Office, Marchand wanted to depress voter turnout among Republicans in order to benefit Democrats on the ballot.

Marchand initially lied to investigator Anna Croteau when she questioned him about his part in the campaign, according to Mattson’s letter.

“When she first asked about Preserve-Portsmouth.com, you stated that you had heard of the website. You denied you had ever claimed responsibility for the website but noted that other people had been saying you were responsible for it,” Matteson wrote.

However, Croteau already had screenshots of a text conversation in which Marchand took credit for the content of the websites.

“To be very clear, I am the one to create the content,” Marchand wrote.

Matteson’s letter states the Attorney General’s Office has records of Marchand’s communications with at least four other people about the campaign, in which he stated the goal was to create guilt by association aimed at the targeted candidates, linking them to Trump in the mind of Portsmouth voters.

“(i)s really meant to help get Democrats who gave Becksted and others a vote in 2019 to really think about what they are doing in 2021,” Marchand wrote.

Whelan suspects the true purpose of the campaign was to get rid of council members who oppose development in the historic sections of the city. Marchand’s record as mayor includes changing zoning ordinances to make development easier, Whelan said. Whelan wants to know who Marchand was working with and for, and who funded the operation.

“Somebody spent a lot of money to do this,” Whelan said.

The attorney general’s report found that while Marchand would have violated campaign finance law by not disclosing who was behind the websites, fliers, and robotexts if it could be proved that he acted in concert with others. However, Marchand claimed, eventually, that while he acted alone in creating the content he did not set up the websites. Matteson noted the claim he acted alone was the last of many explanations Marchand offered to investigators.

New Hampshire law on campaign finance transparency allows a narrow exemption for individuals engaged in advocacy. Marchand was cautioned, however, that if he continues to engage in similar campaigns he could lose the exemption and face possible prosecution.

Last year, Portsmouth Democrat Committee Chair Shanika Amarakoon and New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley issued a statement condemning Marchand’s campaign.

“We cannot let our local elections be undermined by national-style political tactics. The city councilors who were attacked, after all, are our neighbors. While we may not agree with all of their decisions, they did not deserve this attack, and we do not stand for it,” Amarakoon and Buckley wrote.

Newfields Prosecutor (Finally) Drops Case Against NHJournal Reporter

After 18 months, Newfields Police Prosecutor Michael DiCroce is finally giving up on the case against an NHJournal reporter who was charged with a crime while covering protests outside Gov. Chris Sununu’s house.

DiCroce said he was tired of losing.

“We’ve tried eight or nine of them before Judge (Polly) Hall and she’s found all of them not guilty,” DiCroce said. “I’m not going to waste my time prosecuting the one or two left.”

On December 28, 2020, Newfields police used a controversial new ordinance to ticket protesters gathered outside Sununu’s home. They also ticketed Chris Maidment, a NHJournal reporter at the time who was covering the protest. Maidment repeatedly informed authorities he was a reporter and his coverage of the protest appeared at NHJournal the next day. Still, DiCroce insisted on prosecuting the case and does not concede the police did anything wrong.

“Town officials knew he was a reporter. I spoke to the prosecutor myself,” said NHJournal Managing Editor Michael Graham. “We repeatedly requested they drop this case, and they repeatedly declined. The fact that they still won’t admit that arresting a reporter for doing his job is wrong — particularly when politics are at play — should concern every First Amendment supporter in New Hampshire.”

DiCroce declined to say why he persisted in prosecuting Maidment.

“That’s something you’ll have to ask State Police,” DiCroce said.

New Hampshire State Police were involved in the protests by providing security for Sununu. However, documents obtained by NHJournal through a Right to Know request show Newfields Police coordinated with State Police, sharing information on the anti-picketing ordinance, and coordinating the press release about the original arrests.

“It’s quite obvious this case was without legal merit and a blatant First Amendment violation,” said Maidment, who now works for the New Hampshire chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

Concord attorney Seth Hipple, who represented several people charged that night including Maidment, said the government had a losing hand from the start.

“The prosecution’s case was a dumpster fire,” Hipple said.

None of the arresting officers were able to individually identify any of the protesters who were charged, and they were unable to specify what actions the protestors took that violated the law.

“It seemed really clear to me throughout this case the focus of law enforcement was to shield (Sununu) from seeing anybody protesting in front of his residence,” Hipple said.

After Sununu began conducting government business from his home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, opponents of the governor’s COVID-19 policies shifted their protests to the cul-de-sac outside his home.  Sununu and his neighbors expressed their unhappiness with the crowds of sign-waving demonstrators, but the protestors were on public property.

In response, the town Board of Selectmen, including Sununu’s brother Michael, drafted an anti-picketing ordinance designed to discourage — if not prevent — the protests. Three members of the Sununu administration, including Department of Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn, testified on behalf of the protest ban at a December 8, 2020 select board meeting.

Hipple said the town used legal language that was constitutionally problematic in the ordinance. The way it was enforced and prosecuted by Newfields police was even more problematic.

“The fact they arrested a reporter and continued to prosecute a reporter who identified himself shows it has nothing to do with enforcing the law,” Hipple said. “It’s definitely true that the impetus for passing this ordinance was that they didn’t want to have protests where (Sununu) was conducting state business.

The language for the ordinance came directly from the Attorney General’s Office, according to emails obtained by NHJournal.

The process began with a November 24, 2020 email from Michael Sununu to Newfields Police Chief Nathan Liebenow regarding, “complaints I have received from several residents on Hemlock [Court] regarding the protests this past weekend,” and suggesting existing town ordinances “which we need to consider enforcing.”

Chief Liebenow the next day wrote Senior Assistant Attorney General Matthew Broadhead thanking him for “reaching out and offering your assistance on this matter.” The Attorney General’s Office usually responds to requests from local law enforcement rather than reaching out and offering assistance.

Chief Liebenow told Broadhead he had been “speaking with his Board in Newfields” about town ordinances that “are most relevant/applicable in our situation.”

On November 30, 2020, Broadhead responded by suggesting potential language for an anti-picketing ordinance he believed could pass court muster.

“Chief, FYI, in a U.S. Supreme Court case, Frisby v. Schultz… the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the following ordinance: ‘it is unlawful for any person to engage in picketing before or about the residence or dwelling of any individual in the town of Brookfield.’ The court ruled that this ordinance does not violate the First Amendment,” Broadhead wrote.

That language was eventually adopted word for word by the Newfields select board. 

Sununu’s team has denied the governor had anything to do with the ordinance or its passage.

The New Hampshire Press Association gave NHJournal’s coverage of the story a “Free Speech” award earlier this month.

Maidment said he expects the involved parties to do the right thing.

“I expect a formal written apology from the New Hampshire State Police, Newfields Police, and Prosecutor DiCroce any day now,” Maidment said.

AG: Protesters Who Shut Down Exec Council Meeting Won’t Face Charges

Granite Staters watched in confusion and embarrassment last September 29 as a handful of rowdy anti-vaccination protesters shut down a meeting of the state’s Executive Council, taunting the crowd, threatening state employees, and ignoring the law enforcement officers gathered at St. Anselm College.

Eight months later, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has finally finished its investigation of the event. It says there will be no prosecutions. 

“Given the specific facts of this case and the state’s inability to prove any potential criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the state will not bring criminal charges against any individual as a result of their conduct on September 29, 2021. The Attorney General’s Office is closing its review and will take no further action on this matter,” Attorney General John Formella and State Police Colonel Nathan Noyes said in a statement.

They acknowledged there was evidence the protestors committed the crimes of obstructing government administration and disorderly conduct. But, they said, it was not enough for the state to bring charges.

The dozen or so protestors effectively took over the meeting, roaming among the attendees for close to an hour shouting complaints about access to Ivermectin for COVID-19 treatment, repeating false claims of “thousands of deaths” from the vaccine, and warning vaccination supporters they would be treated the way Nazis were treated after World War II.

“You’re going to be held accountable,” one woman cried. “Maybe not now, but years from now — Nuremberg trials!”

 

“FEMA camps!” shouted a man wearing a Karen Testerman for Governor t-shirt, referencing a conspiracy theory about government roundups of non-compliant citizens first circulated by progressives against President George W. Bush.

Dozens of police officers were on-site from State Police and Goffstown. But they never intervened to stop the protestors. Instead, they escorted employees from the Department of Health and Human Services employees to their cars, employees who said they felt threatened by the protesters.

Without those employees on hand to testify, councilors claimed the meeting could not go forward.

As video of the police standing by amid the chaos hit New Hampshire TV screens, some citizens began questioning why the trained law enforcement officers did not act. Asked if there had been a review of the officer’s inaction, attorney general spokesperson Michael Garrity told NHJournal,  “Any review of the actions of any involved law enforcement officers would be handled administratively by their respective agencies and would not involve this office.”

The issue of police refusing to act is particularly sensitive in the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Gov. Chris Sununu’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. He also skipped out of the meeting in September, leaving Councilor Dave Wheeler (R-Milford) to announce to the worked-up crowd the meeting was being canceled.

Wheeler said at the time several state employees felt unsafe at the meeting and left. Since those employees were needed to answer questions from the council members, the meeting could not take place.

“Mission accomplished,” one protester shouted at the news.

Councilor Cinde Warmington (D-Concord) said at the time New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette made the decision to have her staff leave as the protesters grew increasingly agitated. Staffers were escorted to their cars by New Hampshire State Police troopers.

When the DHHS employees left the auditorium, the situation in the room got worse.

“Once that happened, we got reports from State Police and the commissioner of safety that the room had become more disruptive and they felt it had become unsafe,” Warmington said.

Despite police deeming the situation unsafe, none of the protestors will be charged. New Hampshire does arrest and prosecute protestors frequently, according to Pat Sullivan with the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police Association. 

“They’ve charged them at Seabrook protesting the nuclear power plant,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan declined to comment on the Executive Council protestors. The town of Newfields wrote an anti-picketing ordinance specifically so it could arrest protesters upsetting the governor’s family by protesting near his house. The Newfields police even arrested the New Hampshire Journal reporter who was covering the protest.

That reporter is scheduled to appear in court July 7.

Many of the same protestors were arrested at the October meeting for their disruption. Michael Garrity, Director of Communication for the Attorney General’s Office, said none of the prosecutions of those arrested in October will be impacted by Tuesday’s decision. Asked why protesters engaged in the same behavior were not charged with a crime in both cases, Garrity said the office could not comment.

“Because the cases that arose out of the 10/13 meeting remain ongoing, we cannot comment on those matters,” Garrity said.

The New Hampshire Department of Safety has refused to even say how many police officers were at the meeting.

“(T)he Department of Safety does not publicly discuss operational details or tactics,” Paul Raymond with the Department of Safety said in September when asked by NH Journal.

Raymond claimed at the time the failure to arrest the protesters in September was due to concern for their constitutional rights.

“Decisions on whether to effect an arrest require officers to carefully consider the fundamental rights granted to protesters by the First Amendment, the text of the criminal code, as well as the safety and security of other bystanders and attendees,” Raymond said.

That concern was apparently resolved when police arrested many of the same protestors for the same behavior a month later.

Attorney General: ‘Additional Investigation’ Underway in Bedford Ballot Case

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.

Write-In Campaigns Are Longshots, But Wiseman’s Upbeat in Bedford

Despite the long odds of being a write-in candidate, Hanan Wiseman likes his chances to become Bedford’s next Town Moderator over Brian Shaughnessy.  

“Believe it or not, for being a write-in candidate against a very well-connected individual, I feel really good about my chances,” Wiseman said Monday.

Shaughnessy was the assistant town moderate and played a key role in Bedford’s 2020 ballot snafu, coverup, and subsequent New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office investigation. He did not respond to a request for comment.

As the only candidate on the ballot in his race, Shaugnessy would be expected to ignore a write-in candidacy. Instead, he’s taken to Facebook to explain his actions regarding the 2020 ballot problems, and he sent a threatening letter to Wiseman suggesting he might sue his opponent for defamation.

“He’s just making things worse,” one Bedford Republican told NHJournal.

Brian Shaughnessy

Win or lose on Tuesday, Shaughnessy will be the subject of an Executive Council meeting on Wednesday as they consider his nomination to become a Circuit Court judge. Sununu’s decision to pick the Bedford Democrat surprised some Republicans and alarmed others.

New Hampshire’s Republican National Committee member, Chris Ager, sent a letter to the four Republican Executive Council members urging them to vote against Shaughnessy. 

“My concern is with a perception of a lack of transparency in our elections. I believe our system has credibility issues with many voters. This nominee will only deepen the distrust of our (in my opinion well run) elections,” Ager wrote.

Councilor Dave Wheeler has already announced his opposition and urged Sununu to pull the nomination.

Meanwhile, Wiseman says he’s been working hard for votes the past few weeks.

“We’ve reached over 5,000 people individually in this community and, as of today, I have only received negative feedback from two people,” Wiseman said. “Everyone else has been positive. I guess it will all come down to who shows up at the polls and whether or not they take the time to write me in.”

Bedford typically sees about 1,700 voters come out to the polls during the annual Town Meeting ballot vote. Bedford GOP Chair Bart Fromer said no matter how hard Wiseman might be campaigning, Shaughnessy still has the edge given he’s the only name on the ballot. Even with the 2020 ballot controversies, many voters may not be paying attention to the issues.

“Typical voters coming out to Town Meeting may not be focused on that race,” Fromer said

Wiseman knows he’s got a tough hill to climb when the voters go to the polls tomorrow.

“I certainly believe that if I were on the ballot, I would win this election in a landslide. Being a write-in right now is my greatest hurdle,” Wiseman said.

The town is currently the subject of another ballot-related investigation by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office after a second batch of 2020 ballots were discovered inside an election box during a September special election.

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 there were no plans to inform the public until NH Journal broke the story. The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office took control of the town’s ballot boxes and the investigation is ongoing.

Sununu Taps Bedford ‘Ballot Fiasco’ Lawyer for Circuit Court Judgeship

“I like Chris Sununu. I’ve donated money to him. But this makes absolutely no sense.”

That was the reaction of a Bedford GOP donor to news the Republican governor has tapped Bedford assistant moderator Brian Shaughnessy to become a Circuit Court judge. 

Shaughnessy made headlines across the state — and critics say, a laughingstock of Bedford — with his mishandling of misplaced ballots during the 2020 election. And, critics note, the town is still under investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office after the revelation of a second batch of mishandled ballots.

NHJournal first broke the news of 190 absentee ballots that were misplaced and left uncounted during the 2020 general election, and the decision of town officials to keep them secret for nearly a year. The town sent a letter to the 190 disenfranchised voters claiming they kept their failure to count all the ballots a secret from the town council and voters at the instruction of the Attorney General’s Office.

That claim turned out to be false. It was in fact Shaughnessy himself who advised his fellow town officials to leave voters and their elected representatives in the dark. The Attorney General’s Office took the unusual step of releasing a letter of its own disputing claims made by Bedford town officials.

“I would never say that an elected official lied,” Attorney General’s general counsel Anne Edwards told NHJournal at the time.“We felt it was important to issue a clarification because we were concerned about the accuracy of some of the statements.”

During a contentious meeting in November, Shaugnessy told the Town Council “we don’t work for you,” in response to their complaints. And he acknowledged the town had sent out false information and that he was the source of the call for secrecy.

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

During that same meeting, he made the false claim that, if Bedford town officials had been transparent about their mishandling of ballots, they “could be subject to criminal penalties, including a felony.”

Under questioning by a town councilor, Shaughnessy conceded he did not know of any law or statute town officials could have violated by telling voters the truth.

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

The news of Shaughnessy’s oversight of town elections went from bad to worse when a second batch of mishandled ballots was discovered during the September 2021 special recount but kept secret — again– from town officials until November.

“I don’t know why notification was not made immediately in September,” Bedford Town Manager Rick Sawyer wrote in an email to the town council at the time.

Meanwhile, Shaughnessy continues to insist he has handled the issues properly and that voters and their elected representatives have no right to transparency when it comes to the handling of their ballots by town officials like himself.

“No one has pointed to any law, rule,  or other legal authority that states that the moderator or town clerk, also elected officials, had an obligation to inform anyone other than the secretary of state’s office,” Shaughnessy told NHJournal in November.

Shaughnessy is running for the job of town moderator in the March 8 elections. Despite an effort by several local Republican leaders to recruit another candidate, he is on the ballot unopposed. (At least one candidate, Hanan Wiseman, is mounting a write-in campaign.)

Many of those same Republicans were livid when they learned of Sununu’s choice, though they were reluctant to speak out against the governor on the record.

Off the record, they complain Shaughnessy’s pick will reignite the issue of ballot security and the #StopTheSteal narrative many believe is hurting Republicans with moderate voters.

“Mike Lindell finally leaves town and now he [Sununu] does this?” one Bedford Republican complained.

The GOP donor added, “Ballot security is a big issue with Republican voters, and the [Executive Council] has already been through a lot for Sununu. I’m not sure they’re going to go along with this.”

Sununu declined to respond to a request for comment. Shaughnessy’s nomination goes before the Executive Council next month.

 

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.

Bedford Official Behind 2020 Ballot Fiasco Running Unopposed for Town Moderator

Despite overseeing the 2020 Bedford ballot fiasco and declaring he does not work for the voters, assistant Town Moderator Brian Shaughnessy is going to ask those same voters to elect him to the Town Moderator’s job.

He is the only candidate filed to appear on the March 8 ballot. 

Bedford’s election officials, including Shaughnessy, current Moderator Bill Kline, and Town Clerk Sally Kellar all came under investigation from the Attorney General’s Office over their mishandling of the 2020 election ballots.

On Shaughnessy’s legal advice, town officials kept the existence of 190 uncounted absentee ballots a secret from both the Town Council and the public for nearly a year. After NHJournal broke the story, town officials tried to blame the Attorney General’s Office and the New Hampshire Secretary of State for leaving voters in the dark. They sent a letter to voters falsely claiming they were ordered to remain silent by state officials.

The Attorney General’s Office responded with a letter 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,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards told NHJournal.

Asked if Shaughnessy, Kline, and Kellar were telling the truth, Edwards replied, “I would never say that an elected official lied. We felt it was important to issue a clarification because we were concerned about the accuracy of some of the statements.”

When confronted at a Town Council meeting in October, Shaughnessy admitted he was the person who recommended town officials keep their failure a secret. He also doubled down on the decision.

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

Town Moderator Bill Klein acknowledged those voters “were disenfranchised,” but he stood by the decision not to inform them. “We believe we did the right thing,” Klein said. “We report to the secretary of state. We do not report to the Town Council.”

According to the secretary of state’s office, that is untrue.

In November, town officials became aware of more ballot snafus. This time, an unknown number of uncast 2020 ballots were found inside a voting box in September 2021. The ballots were not reported until November, and town officials tried to keep that news from leaking. The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office responded by opening an investigation and seizing the town’s ballot boxes.

Town officials are still refusing to confirm the existence of those additional mishandled ballots.

Shaughnessy has previously served as Bedford Town Moderator. Asked about seeking the office amid the current controversies, he remained unrepentant.

“Which recent controversies are you referring to? The AG’s office interviewed me and other Bedford election officials last month in connection with a renewed interest in the 190 absentee ballots, and the ballots found in a ballot container. I do not consider these events controversies, they are facts,” he said in an email to NHJournal.

“I understand that, at the request of the Town Manager, the Town Moderator and Town Clerk met with the Town Attorney who advised that they should not talk about the issues while the AG is investigating, which coincidentally is the same ‘half-cocked legal advice’ I was accused of providing when I appeared before the Town Council.

“I will follow the advice of the Town Attorney and not discuss those matters until the AG has finished its investigation.”

Sources inside state government tell NHJournal Bedford’s handling of the 2020 ballots is still under review by state officials.

State to Monitor Windham Elections After Town Caught ‘Cutting Corners,’ Ignoring Law

New Hampshire’s Attorney General and Secretary of State have released a scathing letter calling out the town of Windham for its inept, dishonest, and potentially illegal mishandling of ballots during the 2020 general election. The behavior of town election officials was so egregious, the state is taking the unusual step of appointing a monitor to oversee the coming September primary election.

The town received the news Friday in a letter from New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella and Secretary of State William Gardner to Windham town officials.

“(S)imply put, town election officials cut corners. Some of those shortcuts created errors — such as using an uncalibrated folding machine — which were unintentional and perhaps unforeseeable, but ultimately resulted in ballots not being accurately counted,” Formella and Gardner wrote.

Windham became a flashpoint in the national debate over President Donald Trump’s unfounded allegations of widespread election fraud after a recount in a state representative’s race came up with wildly different results from the original count. The Election Day results were recounted at the request of Democratic candidate Kristi St. Laurent, who finished behind the top four Republican candidates. In the recount, each of the four winning Republicans picked up about 300 votes and St. Laurent lost 99 votes, dropping her losing margin from just 24 votes to more than 400 votes.

After the state paid at least $123,000 to bring in outside experts to audit Windham’s total, the problem was traced back to folds in absentee ballots that confused the optical scan on the AccuVote machines.

However, the joint letter states there were serious issues in the way town election officials conducted their behavior before and after the election that had nothing to do with folded ballots.

For example, the town failed to follow the legal requirements for calibrating the machines before the ballot-counting began. Towns are required to use 50 practice ballots to be fed through each machine at least four times. In Windham, officials put six practice ballots through each machine just once.

“The use of six test ballots, each of which was counted only one time by a device, not only violates state law, but also fails to provide the evidence that the device counts accurately as called for by law,” the letter states. Town officials “ignored legal obligations and are of continuing concern as they are indicative of an election that was not executed to the standard of the law or expectations of voters,” Formella and Gardner added.

Windham officials also failed to put securely sealed labels on several boxes of ballots after the vote. And while town officials told the Secretary of State’s Office the proper boxes and labels did not arrive in town before the election, the state’s investigation found a check of the tracking numbers for the shipment indicates all of the boxes and labels arrived in town on time.

Windham’s Town Clerk Nicole Merrill said Monday she was still trying to digest the letter from the state, but that she was also excited to work collaboratively on the upcoming September election.

“We are excited about the monitor and welcome them with open arms,” Merrill said. 

However, Senior Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards said Monday it is highly unusual for the state to appoint an election monitor in New Hampshire.

“It is not very common for the state to put an election monitor in place,” Edwards said in an email. “In the 25 plus years that I have been involved, the only other time I am aware of us putting an election monitor in place was in Derry for the 2016 General Election.”

That election was marred by several legal problems, according to Edwards, resulting from actions by the Derry Town Moderator Mary Till including “(she) did not follow procedures correctly in that she: failed to identify a central polling place; did not correctly handle the counting of the ballots given that she was a candidate on the ballot; and did not correctly arrange for the delivery of ballots from the separate polling places to the Municipal Center.  She also conducted her own hand recount of the ballot counting device, which is not permitted by New Hampshire law or approved by the Secretary of State or the Ballot Law Commission.”

Windham isn’t the only municipality in the state with issues from the 2020 election. The town of Bedford is embroiled in controversy over town officials’ ongoing attempts to keep information from the public over their mishandling of ballots as well. At least 190 absentee ballots were left uncounted, a fact town officials kept secret from both the town council and the voters of Bedford. 

Windham Town Manager Dave Sullivan said voters should feel confident in the process the town has in place, despite the fact the state will be monitoring the next election due to errors.

“We feel very confident in the process that we have,” Sullivan said.

Merrill is looking forward to addressing the issues in town. Given the difficulties in the 2020 elections statewide, she hopes all New Hampshire voters will benefit from what is learned in Windham. Merrill said voters in her town can trust the process.

“I took an oath and I take it very seriously. We keep everyone’s ballots safe and secure,” Merrill said.

The story was updated to correct a reporting error. The Derry official who led to a state monitor in 2016 was Town Moderator Mary Till, and not the town clerk

Laconia Joins List of NH Towns With Ballot Snafus in 2021

More stray ballots from the 2020 general election have been found during a 2021 election, this time in Laconia. And the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office is investigating.

Ballots were reportedly found in a voting machine in September, more than 10 months after the 2020 election. Deputy General Counsel Myles Matteson with Attorney General’s Office said the ballots weren’t reported to his office until this month. Matteson said Wednesday he is unsure why the city took almost three months to report them.

“We don’t have further information to share on that at this point but our investigation is ongoing,” Matteson said.

Laconia officials are not talking. City Clerk Cheryl Hebert, City Manager Scott Myers, and Mayor Andrew Hosmer all declined to respond to requests for comment from New Hampshire Journal on Wednesday.

According to the Concord Monitor, most municipalities in New Hampshire use AccuVote optical scanning systems to tabulate paper ballots. When a voter fills out a ballot, it is scanned and dropped into a secure box connected to the scanner. 

Hebert told the Monitor the city uses an option in the ballot-counting system which allows some ballots to be diverted to a special partitioned section of the box. But she would not say if the ballots discovered in September were found in the special partition. Matteson said whatever happened, it was not the machine’s fault.

“There is no indication that the ballots were left in the ballot collection box because of machine error,” he said.

Representatives for AccuVote are unavailable for comment this week due to the Christmas holiday.

Matteson said the total number of found ballots is not known at this time, but he said they would not change the outcome of any race. While the problem may not be a mechanical error, some Granite Staters in the so-called voter integrity movement want to do away with all voting machines.

The New Hampshire Voter Integrity group is an online community that includes conspiracy theorists who believe Donald Trump won the 2020 election. An effort to get rid of the voting machines in Greenland recently failed overwhelmingly at the ballot box, though there are more plans in other towns to get rid of the machines.

The AccuVote optical scanners used in New Hampshire were generally manufactured in the 1990s, and do not have the ability to go onto the internet, or even be accessed by Bluetooth devices. That has not stopped conspiracy theories from speculating the vote totals were manipulated because of the machines.

The Laconia ballot error is similar to ballot mishaps in Bedford, Merrimack, and Nottingham when stray ballots were found months later.

Bedford tried and failed to keep word of its ballot mishandling secret. Last year, 190 absentee ballots in the November 2020 general election were mistakenly placed among counted ballots and weren’t found until five days later. Town election officials, at the suggestion of Assistant Town Brian Shaughnessy, kept their existence secret from town councilors and the general public — including the 190 disenfranchised voters.

Last month, Town Manager Rick Sawyer sent members of the Town Council an email informing them that another stash of counted 2020 ballots had been found in a ballot box in September during the special election. It took the town weeks to tell anyone about these ballots. Senior Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards confirmed she’s investigating that latest ballot snafu. Edwards had all of Bedford’s ballot boxes seized as part of the investigation.

According to emails obtained by New Hampshire Journal, Town Council Chairman Dan Gilbert was upset that the news of the ballots had gone public. He told councilors not to answer questions about the ballots.

“I have asked for a meeting with our town attorney, town clerk, and town moderator to decide on a course of action in this matter. Please refrain from asking questions or making any comments until a path forward is decided on. I am very disturbed that someone already spoke to the NH Journal about this matter,” Gilbert wrote.