By Susan Haigh: BRIDGEPORT
A state judge has taken the unusual step of ordering a new Democratic mayoral primary in Connecticut’s largest city to be held after the Nov. 7 general election is completed. The decision comes after surveillance videos showed a woman stuffing what appeared to be absentee ballots into an outdoor ballot box days before the original primary.
Superior Court Judge William Clark determined the allegations of possible malfeasance warrant throwing out the results of the Sept. 12 primary, which incumbent Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim won by 251 votes out of 8,173 cast. Absentee ballots secured his margin of victory.
“The volume of ballots so mishandled is such that it calls the result of the primary election into serious doubt and leaves the court unable to determine the legitimate result of the primary,” Clark wrote in his ruling, adding that the videos “are shocking to the court and should be shocking to all the parties.”
Despite the judge’s call for a new primary, the general election is expected to continue as planned. Ganim will appear as the Democratic nominee while Gomes will appear as an independent candidate. Republican David Herz and petitioning candidate Lamond Daniels are also running for mayor.
Ganim’s opponent, John Gomes, whose campaign obtained the surveillance video and released it publicly after the primary, sued city officials and demanded a new primary, or for him to be declared the winner.
Under Connecticut law, voters using a collection box must drop off their completed ballots themselves, or designate certain family members, police, local election officials or a caregiver to do it for them.
The Gomes and Ganim campaigns did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.
“The video evidence, exhibits and testimony prove election fraud on a scale not seen in Connecticut – or anywhere else in the country – in recent history. Not only does the record prove election tampering, it was caught on video,” Gomes’ lawyers had written in a legal brief. They noted Gomes identified “multiple violations” of absentee ballot violations, including “hundreds of absentee ballots” cast by “party operatives,” which show the reliability of the primary results to be “seriously in doubt.”
After reviewing more than 2,000 hours of surveillance video footage, Gomes’ lawyers contend they determined about 420 people used the drop boxes but at least 1,255 ballots were submitted.
Lawyers for city officials questioned the accuracy and relevance of Gomes’ review of the video and argued in a joint legal brief that the video does not prove any illegality. They also noted repeatedly that “not one voter” testified about their ballot being mishandled.
The State Elections Enforcement Commission is currently investigating the allegations of ballot-stuffing, as well as other complaints of possible election improprieties surrounding the same primary.
Gomes, the city’s former chief administrative officer and a one-time Ganim ally, contends the woman in the original surveillance video is Wanda Geter-Pataky, vice chair of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee and a Ganim supporter. Geter-Pataky exercised her right to remain silent multiple times in court concerning the case, including when asked if she’s the person in the video. A former City Council member and current candidate also declined to answer whether she appears in other videos.
Bridgeport City Attorney, Mark Anastasi released a statement on Thursday.
“The City Attorney’s Office is reviewing Judge Clark’s opinion and all the legal options available to us. Meanwhile, as Judge Clark’s decision makes clear, Tuesday’s General Election is proceeding as scheduled and we encourage voters to participate in that election,” the statement from Anastasi says.
Ganim, who was convicted of corruption during a first stint as mayor but won his old job back in an election after his release from prison, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of wrongdoing related to ballots and has raised concerns about other videos which he says show Gomes’ campaign workers dropping in multiple pieces of paper resembling ballots. Gomes has said his staff did nothing wrong.
News of the Bridgeport videos has spread through right-wing social media platforms and on far-right media, connecting the controversy to the 2020 stolen election claims.
Associated Press writers Dave Collins in Hartford, Connecticut, and Pat Eaton-Robb in Columbia, Connecticut, contributed to this report.
November 3, 2023 @ 6:22 GMT|