Connecticut judge orders new mayoral primary after surveillance videos show possible ballot stuffing

A judge on Wednesday tossed out the results of a Democratic mayoral primary in Connecticut’s largest city and ordered that a new one be held, citing surveillance videos showing people stuffing multiple absentee ballots into outdoor collection boxes.

The ruling came just six days before the general election, creating a perplexing scenario in which voters will decide the outcome of Bridgeport's mayoral election on Nov. 7, then be asked to return to the polls at a later, undetermined date to choose the rightful Democratic nominee in that very same race.

In his ruling Wednesday, Superior Court Judge William Clark addressed the incongruity by saying he lacked the authority to postpone or cancel the general election. However, he said he had seen enough evidence of malfeasance to order a rerun of a Sept. 12 primary in which incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim defeated challenger John Gomes by 251 votes out of 8,173 cast.

“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.

The judge cited statistics showing that abnormally large numbers of absentee ballots were cast in certain voting districts and video evidence showing multiple people shoving stacks of ballots into drop boxes, in violation of state law.

“The videos are shocking to the court and should be shocking to all the parties,” Clark wrote.

The judge gave lawyers in the case 10 days to confer with city and state election officials on a possible date for the new primary. It’s unclear whether city officials will appeal his decision in the meantime.

Despite the judge’s decision, the general election will take place as planned on Tuesday. Ganim will appear as the Democratic nominee. Gomes is on the ballot, too, 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 chief administrative officer. "Our campaign always believed that the integrity of our democratic process must be upheld and Superior Court Judge William Clark agreed.”

Ganim urged his supporters to turn out on Election Day.

"Let’s send a powerful message that we want to keep the progress going in Bridgeport,” he said.

Ganim, who was convicted of corruption during a first stint as mayor but won his old job back in an election after his release from prison, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of wrongdoing related to ballots. He has also accused Gomes campaign workers of breaking voting rules.

Under Connecticut law, voters using a collection box must drop off their completed ballots themselves, or designate certain family members, police, local election officials or a caregiver to do it for them.

William Bloss, a lawyer for Gomes, said he believed the judge's ruling Wednesday set up a scenario in which a primary would only be needed if Ganim wins the general election. A Gomes victory, he claimed, would make the primary moot.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission is currently investigating the allegations of ballot-stuffing, as well as other possible improprieties.

Lawyers for city officials had argued in a joint legal brief that the security camera footage doesn’t prove anything illegal took place. They said “not one voter” testified about their ballot being mishandled.

During testimony held before the judge last month, one person is seen on surveillance video stuffing stacks of papers into a ballot drop box. Gomes contends 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.

State Republicans have pounced on the Bridgeport ballot case as proof Connecticut needs to pass election reforms, especially affecting absentee ballots.

“These videos confirm our fears about how absentee ballots can be misused. Now the court has spoken,” state Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said in a statement. “What we need now is trust, faith and confidence in our electoral system.”

News of the Bridgeport videos has spread nationally through right-wing social media platforms and on far-right media, connecting the controversy to former President Donald Trump's false stolen election claims.

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Associated Press writers Dave Collins in Hartford, Connecticut, and Pat Eaton-Robb in Columbia, Connecticut, contributed to this report.