Surveillance video of ballot box sparks outcry, police inquiry in Bridgeport
A Bridgeport mayoral candidate who was defeated in the city’s Democratic primary election says he has obtained video evidence showing tampering with absentee ballots.
The city’s police department confirmed Saturday it is investigating “possible misconduct” in connection with the video, which surfaced on social media one day earlier.
The clip purports to show surveillance video of a woman placing what appears to be paper inside a ballot box on the morning of Sept. 5, one week before the primary contest between challenger John Gomes and incumbent Mayor Joseph Ganim.
In a message posted online, Gomes claimed the video proves “that the mayoral election was unequivocally stolen through corruption within City Hall by tampering with absentee ballots.”
Absentee ballots helped to propel Ganim to victory in the election, which was decided by fewer than 300 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.
Scott Appleby, the city’s emergency management and homeland security director, said police immediately initiated an investigation after the video surfaced to determine whether potential criminal wrongdoing occurred.
An internal investigation is also underway into how the video was obtained. It appears to show recordings from municipal video cameras inside and outside of government center. Police are probing “any possible breach to our security video management system,” and have taken measures to secure the system, Appleby said.
In a written statement, Police Chief Roderick Porter said the department will “pursue possible criminal prosecution and/or administrative discipline as it relates to any such security violations.” Porter added that “integrity of our security systems is of the utmost importance and priority for public safety and public trust, and those responsible if found to have violated our trust will be held to account for their actions.”
Absentee ballots played a significant role in this year’s municipal primary, which drew relatively low turnout overall. More than one quarter of the roughly 8,000 ballots cast in the race came by absentee votes, according to figures released last week by state election officials. That’s up from 1,391 during the last mayoral contest four years earlier.
The shift followed a move by state lawmakers to ease restrictions on absentee voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Connecticut law allows people to vote absentee if they are away from their polling place on election day, or if sickness, physical disability, military service, religious beliefs or duties working as an election official in another jurisdiction prevent them from casting a ballot in person.
Voters can designate someone to return an absentee ballot on their behalf, but the list of acceptable designees is limited. It includes family members; those caring for the voter because of illness or disability, such as a licensed physician or a registered nurse; police officers; and the registrar, deputy registrar or assistant registrar of voters.
Joshua Foley, a spokesperson for the State Elections Enforcement Commission, told Connecticut Public last week that the SEEC is not permitted to confirm or deny whether it has received any complaints pertaining to the Bridgeport mayoral primary, but said the commission is “actively monitoring” voting in the city. Foley didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday night.
Gomes was not immediately available for comment Saturday evening.
In a written statement, Ganim said the matter has been referred to the appropriate authorities for review.
"I have full confidence in the Chief, the department, and agencies to handle the apparent illegal actions of any city employees as it involves the release of any city property, including video footage and any related legal or city issues," Ganim said.
This isn’t the first time absentee ballots have been called into question in the city.
During the 2019 primary between Ganim and challenger state Sen. Marilyn Moore, Ganim similarly lost the in-person vote, but prevailed by a narrow margin, thanks to an edge in absentee ballots. Moore and a group of local activists cried foul at the time, prompting a court review and an investigation by the SEEC.
Three Ganim supporters now face potential criminal charges in connection with the 2019 primary. The Connecticut Post first reported last month that state election officials voted unanimously in June to refer "evidence of possible criminal violations" related to the election to the chief state’s attorney for review.
Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee Chairman Mario Testa, a longtime Ganim supporter who has helped secure the mayor’s electoral victories, denied any current or past impropriety in absentee voting. In an interview on primary day, before the video was posted online, Testa said the party provides members guidance on the rules surrounding absentee ballots.
“We always instruct the people to follow the law,” he said.
In this year’s contest, Ganim received about 51.5% of the vote, topping Gomes by 251 votes, according to the most recent figures available from the Secretary of the State’s Office. Ganim received 4,212 votes, while Gomes received 3,961.
Gomes initially refused to concede the race on election night, telling supporters he believes the election was “stolen.”
"There will be tangible evidence that this election was sabotaged," Gomes said at the time.
Ganim first served as mayor of Bridgeport from 1991 to 2003 before spending seven years in federal prison for corruption and extortion charges stemming from his time in office. But he achieved an unlikely political comeback in 2015, winning the mayoral election and securing another term four years later.
In this year’s contest, Ganim and Gomes are set to square off again in the general election on Nov. 7. Despite losing the Democratic primary, Gomes will appear on the ballot as the endorsed candidate of the Independent Party. Republican David Herz and petitioning candidate Lamond Daniels are also running.
On Sunday, a group of about 75 Gomes supporters gathered outside Bridgeport's government center building to call for an end to what they called "absentee ballot abuse." Resident Maxine Greenberg said she has observed local elections closely for more than two decades. Greenberg said the video substantiates her long-held belief that results were unfairly swayed.
"It's horrific what's happening here," Greenberg said. "It's like right out in the open, and there's no consequences for the people's behavior."
Kelvin Ayala, a resident and downtown business owner, said he applauds the person who obtained the video recordings. Ayala called on state officials to help safeguard the city's electoral process.
"I wish more people would understand the plight that the Bridgeport residents are going through," he said. “And we need help. We need help from the state.”