BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – A judge on Wednesday threw out the results of a Democratic mayoral primary in Connecticut’s largest city and ordered a new one to be held. He cited surveillance videos that show people stuffing several mail-in ballots into outdoor collection boxes.
The ruling came just six days before the general election, creating a confusing scenario in which voters will decide the outcome of Bridgeport’s mayoral election on Nov. 7 and then be asked to return to the polls at a later, unspecified date to vote Democrats to choose nominee in the same race.
In his ruling Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice William Clark addressed the discrepancies by saying he lacked the authority to postpone or cancel the general election. But he said he saw enough evidence of wrongdoing to order a rerun of a Sept. 12 primary in which incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim defeated challenger John Gomes by 251 of 8,173 votes cast.
“The volume of ballots so mishandled is so great that the outcome of the primary is placed in serious doubt and the Court is unable to determine the legitimate outcome of the primary,” Clark wrote in his ruling.
The judge pointed to statistics showing unusually high numbers of mail-in ballots being cast in certain precincts, as well as video evidence showing several people placing stacks of ballots in mailboxes, violating state law.
“The videos are shocking to the court and should be shocking to all parties,” Clark wrote.
The judge gave attorneys in the case 10 days to discuss a possible date for the new primary with city and state election officials. It is unclear whether the city government will appeal its decision in the meantime.
Despite the judge’s decision, the parliamentary election will take place as planned on Tuesday. Ganim will run as the Democratic candidate. Gomes is also on the ballot as an independent candidate. Lamond Daniels and Republican David Herz are also running for mayor.
“This is a victory for the people of Bridgeport,” said Gomes, the city’s former top administrator. “Our campaign has always believed in the need to preserve the integrity of our democratic process, and Supreme Court Justice William Clark agreed.”
Ganim urged his supporters to vote on election day.
“Let’s send a strong message that we want to maintain progress in Bridgeport,” he said.
Ganim, who was convicted of corruption during his first term as mayor but regained his old post in an election after being released from prison, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of wrongdoing involving ballots. He has also accused Gomes’ campaign aides of violating election rules.
Connecticut law requires voters who use a collection box to hand in their completed ballots themselves or to designate designated family members, police, local election officials or a guardian to do so for them.
William Bloss, an attorney for Gomes, said he believes the judge’s ruling Wednesday created a scenario in which a primary would be required only if Ganim wins the general election. A Gomes victory, he claimed, would render the primary invalid.
The state Election Enforcement Commission is currently investigating the allegations regarding the ballot and other possible improprieties.
Lawyers for city officials had argued in a joint legal opinion that the surveillance camera footage provided no evidence that anything illegal took place. They said “not a single voter” said their ballot was mishandled.
During testimony before the judge last month, surveillance video shows a person stuffing stacks of papers into a ballot box. Gomes claims the person is Wanda Geter-Pataky, a Ganim supporter and vice chair of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee. In court, Geter-Pataky exercised her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to answer questions. A former city council member and current candidate also declined to answer questions about whether she appears in other videos.
The state’s Republicans have pounced on the Bridgeport election case as evidence that Connecticut needs to adopt election reforms that particularly impact mail-in voting.
“These videos confirm our fears about how mail-in ballots can be misused. Now the court has spoken,” Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said in a statement. “What we need now is trust and confidence in our electoral system.”
News of the Bridgeport videos has spread nationwide across right-wing social media platforms and in far-right media outlets, linking the controversy to former President Donald Trump’s false stolen election claims.
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