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Bridgeport attorneys ask judge to sequester some absentee ballots

A city employee carries absentee ballots from the ballot box at Margaret E. Morton Government Center in Bridgeport on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023.
Shahrzad Rasekh
/
CT Mirror
A city employee carries absentee ballots from the ballot box at Margaret E. Morton Government Center in Bridgeport on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023.

Attorneys for Bridgeport officials asked a Superior Court judge on Monday to sequester any of 1,400 absentee ballots submitted for Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary between John Gomes and Joe Ganim that originated from applications obtained by a member of Gomes’ campaign.

A motion filed by attorney Richard Burturla, who represents the Bridgeport Town Clerk, asked Judge William Clark to conduct an emergency hearing to determine “whether absentee ballots received from voters, who obtained their ballot applications from any of the 1,400 plus absentee ballot applications provided Ms. Denise Solano, be sequestered pending subsequent judicial determination of their validity.”

The court filing claims that Solano provided “certain of these application forms to twenty-two volunteers for the Gomes campaign, which volunteers then circulated the same to voters.”

The proposed order asks Clark to order the Registrar of Voters to sequester any absentee ballots obtained through applications taken out by Solano until the court can determine their validity.

The motion was filed midday, Monday less than 24 hours before the polls open and voters decide for a third time between incumbent Ganim and Gomes. Clark has not indicated whether he will hold a hearing.

Ganim defeated Gomes by 251 votes in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, but Gomes filed the lawsuit seeking to overturn those results after a video surfaced of Democratic Town Committee vice chairwoman Wanda Geter-Pataky apparently placing multiple absentee ballots into one of the four absentee ballot drop boxes in the city.

After five days of testimony, including Geter-Patky pleading the Fifth Amendment against incriminating herself more than 70 times, Clark orderedthe new primary for Jan. 23.

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

Clark said the numerous videos of Geter-Pataky delivering ballots to the drop boxes and assisting other people in dropping off ballots highly suggested that she was breaking the state’s election laws.

“These instances do not appear to the court to be random,” Clark wrote in his opinion.

“The issue in this case is not the applications or even the push to deliver absentee votes. The issue is whether that advocacy crossed a line of the established laws. Specifically, whether individuals who were not the voter and were not authorized under statute handled ballots,” Clark said.

Secretary of State Stephanie Thomas’ office filed a complaint with the State Ethics Enforcement Commission late last week regarding Solano taking out the applications and having others distribute them. It is unclear how many of the 1,400 applications that Solano signed out of the Town Clerk’s office have been distributed.

An analysis of all the absent ballot applications from the September primary done by the Connecticut Mirror showed that several people affiliated with Ganim’s campaign signed out absentee ballot applications and gave them to Geter-Pataky to distribute, which is illegal under state election laws.

As of Thursday, more than 6,000 absentee ballot applications had been signed out of the Bridgeport town clerk’s office in preparation for Tuesday’s election. Many of the same political operatives who were busy in advance of the Sept. 12 Democratic primary continued to circulate those applications street to street and door to door.

And records show the dueling Democratic campaigns have repeated the strategy of targeting residents primarily in Bridgeport’s low-income apartments and elderly housing units.

Ganim, who returned to the mayor’s office in 2015 after serving seven years in prison on federal corruption charges, has relied heavily on absentee votes to win many of his most recent elections. It was absentee votes that carried Ganim to victory in 2019 when he was challenged in the Democratic primary by state Sen. Marilyn Moore. And last year, he squeaked out two election-night wins against Gomes after overcoming a deficit in the in-person vote count.

Launched in 2010, The Connecticut Mirror specializes in in-depth news and reporting on public policy, government and politics. CT Mirror is nonprofit, non-partisan, and digital only.