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Bridgeport mayoral candidate John Gomes confident after judge's ruling in ballot tampering case

Candidate John Gomes speaks in response to the court ruling throwing out the results of the September 12, 2023 mayoral primary election in Bridgeport due to absentee ballot tampering.
Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public
Candidate John Gomes speaks in response to the court ruling throwing out the results of the September 12, 2023 mayoral primary election in Bridgeport due to absentee ballot tampering.

Bridgeport mayoral candidate John Gomes found out about the judge’s decision to toss out the Bridgeport mayoral primary by text.

“Yesterday I closed myself in the room for a few, and I cried,” Gomes said.

Superior Court Judge William Clark sided with Gomes in a legal decision Wednesday. Gomes sued city officials over allegations of ballot fraud.

He’s confident he’ll win, even as his campaign manager Christine Bartlett-Josie said supporters of Mayor Joe Ganim are allegedly collecting absentee ballots just days before the Nov. 7 election.

But even if he wins, some, like Callie Gale Heilmann, who runs a voter advocacy group in the city say there's not much of a difference between the two.

But for now, Gomes feels confident he can win - provided that voters reject absentee ballots.

“All we could do is ask the voters of Bridgeport to show up on Nov. 7, and cast their vote in person to make sure that this does not happen again,” he said.

Ganim won the original September primary by around 251 votes, many of which were absentee ballots.

And absentee ballots were at the heart of Gomes’ lawsuit, claiming Ganim campaign volunteers collected ballots when they were unauthorized to do so in a practice called ballot harvesting.

A widely publicized video showed a woman tied to Ganim’s campaign stuffing ballots inside a drop box and proved to be pivotal to Gomes’ case.

But there’s not much his campaign can do to prevent further electoral misconduct, other than refer complaints to the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC).

Bartlett-Josie said she’s heard from voters complaining about people tied to the Ganim campaign continuing to harvest ballots.

“I've taken my time to ask those folks to simply call the SEEC, because it's an ongoing investigation, get names and addresses and have them go out and investigate,” Bartlett-Josie said. “So it continues.”

If Gomes wins, that means he also wins the general election. Yet if Ganim wins, that means the city gets another primary, according to Bill Bloss, the attorney for Gomes’ campaign.

Ganim responded to the decision in a press statement on Thursday.

“Over the coming days, we will explore all legal options that are available to us, including the possibility of appealing the court's decision,” Ganim said. “We all want a fair election process.”

His campaign manager, Rowena White, said in a phone interview voters should still use absentee ballots if they must.

“Anybody who is in a position to vote should vote and if that means that they need to submit an absentee ballot, because they're a senior, they have transportation or mobility issues, or they have some type of a health or medical condition, and they're not able to physically make it should use the absentee ballot process that's available to them,” White said.

While the election and the future of a new primary in Bridgeport are up in the air, Gomes has to put in the work to ensure lasting changes in Bridgeport, according to Callie Gale Heilmann,
co-director of Bridgeport Generation Now Votes which is a voter advocacy organization. Heilmann was at the press conference in the audience.

While she supports Gomes’ effort to overturn the primary, her organization initially endorsed State Sen. Marilyn Moore.

She noted Gomes was a city hall employee up until a year ago.

“If he wins in November, he comes into office with a cloud of suspicion around him about how exactly he's going to be independent, transparent, accountable, and restore faith and that will be his burden to prove,” Heilmann said.

On Friday, the Secretary of the State's office said an interim election monitor was in place for the Bridgeport election.

Peggy Reeves is an attorney who spent 14 years as a registrar of voters. She also spent two years as a state representative and served eight and a half years as the director of elections at the Secretary of the State’s office, according to Tara Chozet, a spokesperson for the office.

Chozet acknowledged the search for a permanent election monitor has been difficult, saying the office has only received a handful of applications so far for the job, which requires expertise in election law, but lasts for only two years and offers no benefits.

"We believe it’s more important to have the right person and not just any person, so we have appointed an interim monitor while we search for a permanent one," Chozet said.

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