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Bridgeport ballot box abuse case temporarily paused as attorneys review evidence

Bridgeport mayoral candidate John Gomes speaks to the press with his attorney Bill Bloss after appearing in court on September 25, 2023. Gomes filed a lawsuit challenging the results of the Sept. 12 mayoral primary after his campaign released a video of a woman making early morning trips to stuff papers into an absentee ballot drop box.
Ryan Caron King
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Connecticut Public
Bridgeport mayoral candidate John Gomes speaks to the press with his attorney Bill Bloss after appearing in court on September 25, 2023. Gomes filed a lawsuit challenging the results of the Sept. 12 mayoral primary after his campaign released a video of a woman making early morning trips to stuff papers into an absentee ballot drop box.

A dispute over absentee ballots in Bridgeport's mayoral primary went to court Monday. But the challenge was quickly postponed to early next month to give attorneys more time to review evidence.

The lawsuit, filed by Bridgeport's former chief administrative officer John Gomes, comes just weeks after he lost the Democratic primary to incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim.

Gomes says he wants to have the Sept. 12 primary redone, or be declared the winner due to alleged ballot box abuse.

Judge William Clark ordered Monday that attorneys for Gomes and the city be given more time to review "voluminous" amounts of requested evidence surrounding the Sept. 12 vote.

"There's an unprecedented amount of video evidence and documentary evidence," said Bill Bloss, Gomes' attorney, "that we're going to do everything we can to go through in a timely way."

The next court date is slated for Oct. 2 and will be a closed-door session to review evidence requests. Assuming that goes smoothly, Clark said, the court could begin hearing evidence shortly thereafter.

"We're just hoping that things get expedited given that our objective is to overturn this primary," Gomes said Monday. "And then we have an election on November 7th."

The lawsuit follows surveillance videos released by the Gomes campaign that appear to show a person making multiple early morning trips to stuff papers into an absentee ballot drop box.

That video has prompted the State Elections Enforcment Commission (SEEC) to investigate allegations of ballot box abuse in the state’s largest city.

Absentee ballots helped to propel Ganim to victory in the election, which was decided by 251 votes. Gomes received a greater share of votes from in-person voters on primary day, but lost the race after more than 2,300 absentee ballots were added to the vote tally by the end of the evening.

Judge William Clark presides over a hearing in Bridgeport Superior Court, in Bridgeport, Conn. Sept. 25, 2023.
Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media
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Pool
Judge William Clark presides over a hearing in Bridgeport Superior Court, in Bridgeport, Conn. Sept. 25, 2023.

Under Connecticut law, people using a collection box to vote by absentee ballot 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 original ballot box recordings have not been released by the city, but excerpts posted by the Gomes campaign purport to show a woman visiting a drop box outside Bridgeport's City Hall Annex three times between 5:42 a.m. and 6:38 a.m. on Sept. 5 and stuffing documents inside. The video also apparently shows the same woman inside City Hall Annex handing papers to a man, who appears to deposit them in the absentee ballot box.

Connecticut Public has not independently confirmed the video’s authenticity or the identity of the persons in the video.

In a statement released Monday, Ganim said he did “not condone, in any way, actions taken by anyone including any campaign, city, or elected officials, which undermines the integrity of either the electoral process or city property.”

For decades, Bridgeport, a heavily Democratic working-class city of 148,000, about 62 miles east of New York City, has been under state and federal scrutiny for alleged irregularities involving absentee ballots. New primaries have been called over the years in state legislative and local city council races because of absentee ballot problems.

Video footage released by mayoral candidate John Gomes appears to show a person putting ballots in an absentee ballot box in Bridgeport the morning of September 5, 2023.
Video Screen Grab
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John Gomes for Mayor Facebook
Video footage released by mayoral candidate John Gomes appears to show a person putting ballots in an absentee ballot box in Bridgeport the morning of September 5, 2023.

Ganim, 63, was first elected mayor in 1991 and served 12 years before quitting when he was caught accepting bribes and kickbacks. Convicted of racketeering, extortion and other crimes, he spent seven years in prison, but then won his old job back in an election in 2015. He won reelection again four years ago.

This story has been updated. Connecticut Public’s Bria Lloyd, Ashad Hajela, Matt Dwyer, Patrick Skahill and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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