By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Attorney General John M. Formella is contesting statements made by Bedford election officials regarding 190 uncounted absentee ballots from the 2020 general election.
Formella also released letters about investigations into two other towns which failed to count all absentee ballots during the same election.
The other two instances involved three uncounted ballots in each community: Merrimack and Nottingham.
All three towns were told to inform the voters who cast the uncounted ballots what had happened and to improve their processes for handling absentee ballots to ensure all votes are counted in the future.
Bedford election officials sent a letter to voters Oct. 28 informing them of the problem, explaining what happened and noting the long time period before the resolution of the matter mostly due to the Attorney General’s Office’s slow pace with the investigation.
The letter also claims the Attorney General’s Office told election officials to keep the matter secret and not inform town officials or the voters.
Those statements are contested in the letter sent Monday to Bedford election officials.
“We are concerned in particular about 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; 1.) that you made numerous attempts to obtain resolution from our office: and 3.) that our closure letter was essentially the first explanation from us as to the necessary remediation plan. These statements are inaccurate,” wrote General Counsel Anne Edwards.
The letter continues by refuting the claims and outlines the history of the investigation including that the Secretary of State’s Office determined soon after the Bedford town clerk informed its office of the uncounted ballots, that counting them would not have made a difference in election outcomes.
“Our Office never instructed you not to tell anyone of the incident involving the 190 uncounted absentee ballots. We would not have issued such an instruction as it is at odds with our standard instruction to individuals involved in elections investigations,” Edwards wrote. “Instead, we informed you that our office would not be making any public statements regarding Bedford and the two other towns with uncounted absentee ballots until we had investigated the matters and knew what had occurred.”
The Attorney General’s Office does apologize for the time it took to complete its investigation in the Bedford incident, noting the large strain on the elections units resources including the controversial Windham recount.
The office also noted it delayed its closure letter to Bedford officials prior to the special election September 8 to avoid voter confusion and issued the letter to the town Oct. 21.
“At no time did the Attorney General’s Office direct Bedford election officials not to explain the situation with the 190 absentee ballots to the Town Council or any other person,” Edwards wrote. “Additionally the Attorney General’s Office managed this review, along with that of two other towns that did not count some absentee ballots, as resources allowed.”
Edwards said her office first learned of the letter sent to Bedford voters and the inaccurate statements from a report in the media that the NH Journal published Oct. 30.
That the votes were not counted has been a concern for many and among them the Bedford House Republicans who expressed their concerns in a statement released Monday as well.
“The recent reports that the town of Bedford has 190 absentee ballots that were uncounted in the general election is extremely concerning. It is also very troubling that it took almost a full year for this information to reach residents whose votes were not counted,” wrote Republican representatives Ted Gorski, Linda Gould, John Graham, Niki Kelsey, and Laurie Sanborn. “New Hampshire prides itself on election integrity and it is imperative that all Granite Staters remain confident in the election process. This issue must be fully investigated in a transparent manner as soon as possible. We want to know what happened and why this information was concealed for so long. We must ensure that all votes are counted.”
Bedford election officials told investigators they believe there was a mistake made by an election official pre-processing the absentee ballots by putting the 190 ballots in a box with empty absentee ballot envelopes.
Merrimack election officials found three Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act ballots delivered to the town clerk’s office election day, but were not given to the moderator.
Nottingham officials found three absentee ballot envelopes received by the Nottingham Clerk’s Office that were taken to the polls on election day, but were not opened.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.