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CT judge overturns results of Bridgeport mayoral primary, just days before election

Judge William Clark presides over a hearing in Bridgeport Superior Court, in Bridgeport, Conn. Sept. 25, 2023.
Ned Gerard
/
Hearst Connecticut Media / pool photo
Judge William Clark presides over a hearing in Bridgeport Superior Court on Sept. 25, 2023. Clark issued a ruling Wednesday overturning the results of the city's Democratic mayoral primary and ordering a new election.

A Connecticut judge has overturned the results of Bridgeport’s Democratic mayoral primary, ordering a new election in a decision that comes just days before Bridgeport voters are slated to head to the polls on Nov. 7.

Wednesday’s ruling is the latest twist in an election centering on allegations of absentee ballot abuse in Connecticut’s largest city.

The election captured widespread public attention after a video surfaced online appearing to show a supporter of incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim stuffing stacks of papers into an absentee ballot drop box.

Superior Court Judge William Clark determined the allegations of possible malfeasance warrant throwing out the results of the Sept. 12 primary, which 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.”

A new primary date has not been set yet.

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.

He was represented in court by lawyer Bill Bloss.

"At the end of the day, the videos don't lie," Bloss said after Wednesday's ruling was released. "The videos showed substantial, massive absentee ballot misconduct. And that was certainly a substantial reason why the judge ruled the way he did, I think."

Gomes called the ruling "a victory for the people of Bridgeport."

"Our campaign always believed that the integrity of our democratic process must be upheld," he said in a statement.

Ganim said he'll wait to hear from his lawyers as to whether they will appeal the ruling. He encouraged residents to vote during Tuesday's election.

"Let's send a powerful message that we want to keep the progress going in Bridgeport," Ganim said in a statement.

Despite the judge's order, it’s not clear yet whether it will be necessary for Bridgeport to hold another primary. Lawyers for the parties told Connecticut Public that it depends on the outcome of next week's general election.

Voters will head to the polls again on Tuesday to cast their ballots in the race for mayor. A Ganim victory would likely set the stage for another primary, the lawyers said.

But Gomes will also be on Tuesday’s ballot. He has the endorsement of a minor party. And if he wins in the general election, that could bring the litigation to a close.

Bloss speculated that if another primary is held, it would likely take place no earlier than four weeks from now, but could be scheduled as late as the new year, depending on how quickly election officials can prepare.

In his ruling Wednesday, Clark ordered the parties to confer with each other, and with election officials, within 10 days to discuss scheduling a new primary.

The Secretary of the State's office said it will confer with the campaigns, election officials in Bridgeport, and others to determine the date of the primary.

Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said she was "pleased" that Clark is "protecting the integrity of our elections" by ordering a new primary election.

"We hope the city will ensure that all eligible voters are made aware of the new date to avoid disenfranchising any citizens," Thomas said in a statement. "The court’s finding that there was a ‘significant mishandling of ballots’ should be of great concern to all. Our office will continue to advocate for policies such as drop box surveillance, a Connecticut Election Court, and investment in voter education – all of which will strengthen our election system.”

This is a developing story, which is being updated. Connecticut Public's Kate Seltzer and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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