Gomes will challenge Bridgeport Democratic primary results in court
Bridgeport mayoral candidate John Gomes said Monday he will challenge the results of the city’s Democratic primary election in court after videos surfaced online appearing to show a woman placing multiple stacks of papers in a ballot box.
The videos, apparently recorded by municipal surveillance cameras outside the city’s government center building, captured widespread attention over the weekend, and prompted an inquiry by Bridgeport police, who are investigating any potential misconduct shown in the recordings.
Police have also launched an internal probe into how the videos were obtained from the city’s video maintenance system.
Gomes has alleged the woman seen in the video is a city employee and political ally of his opponent, incumbent Mayor Joseph Ganim. Connecticut Public attempted to reach her for comment Saturday, but was unsuccessful.
Bill Bloss, a lawyer representing Gomes, said the pending court complaint will allege mishandling of absentee ballots by a person who is unauthorized to possess them. Gomes will ask a judge to declare him the winner of the primary, or alternatively, to toss out the results and conduct a new primary election, Bloss said.
Separately, the Gomes campaign also filed complaints last week with the State Elections Enforcement Commission alleging political operatives committed numerous violations of state election laws in the run-up to the Sept. 12 primary.
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.
In a written statement issued by his campaign over the weekend, Ganim did not directly address the allegations of absentee ballot improprieties, but said the matter has been referred to the appropriate authorities for review.
In another statement issued Monday, the mayor said local officials are continuing to gather information about the circumstances.
"I want to state unequivocally that I do not condone, in any way, actions taken by anyone including any campaign, city, or elected official, which undermines the integrity of either the electoral process or city property," the statement reads. "The Bridgeport Police Department is actively investigating all these matters, and my administration will continue to update the public as we are able to obtain more information."
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.
Addressing the controversy on Monday, Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said the allegations in Bridgeport are disturbing, but isolated.
Thomas called on local police and the State Elections Enforcement Commission to swiftly and thoroughly investigate.
"This situation is not about partisan politics," Thomas said. "It's not about a broken electoral system. This isn't even about absentee ballot systems. It's about a few bad actors and an under-educated electorate."
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 SEEC, told Connecticut Public last week that the commission is not permitted to confirm or deny whether it has received any complaints, but said the commission is “actively monitoring” voting in the city.
The commission is next expected to meet on Wednesday.
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 state prosecutors for consideration.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Chief State's Attorney did not respond to a request for comment Monday regarding the status of its 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.