A Bridgeport resident brought messages to the city Government Center on Friday, Sept. 22. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

Original reporting by Andrew Brown and Yash Roy. Compiled by Yash Roy.

In Bridgeport’s 2023 Democratic primary, seven-term incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim eked out a narrow 251-vote victory against his challenger, John Gomes.

Though Gomes beat Ganim at the polls, he got crushed by the mayor in absentee voting, 1,545 to 851, according to unofficial results.

Four days after the election, Gomes posted a video on his campaign’s Facebook page in which a woman is seen dropping papers into an absentee ballot box outside the Government Center in Bridgeport.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission has voted to open a sprawling investigation and subpoena all absentee ballots cast. The commission said it received at least four complaints from citizens and two referrals from the Bridgeport Police Department regarding possible misuse of absentee ballots, including their distribution at senior housing complexes.

Meanwhile, a Bridgeport judge was asked to decide whether to block the certification of Ganim’s victory after Gomes filed a case asking a judge to order a new election.

“Right now, there’s a black cloud hanging over Bridgeport,” Gomes told reporters at a press conference at his campaign headquarters last Monday. 

Here’s what’s going on in the aftermath of the city’s primary election.

A video shows a woman depositing papers in an absentee ballot box. Gomes’ campaign claims she’s a Ganim supporter and city employee.

The Gomes campaign alleges that the woman in the video is Wanda Geter-Pataky, a city employee and vice chair of the Democratic town committee.

She was also one of the three individuals the SEEC recommended possible charges against after an investigation revealed the misuse of absentee ballots in 2019. That investigation wrapped up this June, but the chief state’s attorney has not made a decision to prosecute Geter-Pataky or the other two people yet.

The CT Mirror has not been able to independently verify the identity of the woman in the video, and Geter-Pataky has not responded to multiple requests for comment. 

Police are investigating election misconduct — and the video leak.

The Bridgeport Police Department has confirmed that it is “actively investigating information regarding possible misconduct based upon a video that has surfaced on social media.” They are also investigating whether a break in the city’s video management system led to the release of the video.

Ganim’s campaign has not responded to specific questions on the video but did release a statement last Sunday saying that the “entire matter has been sent to the Bridgeport police for investigation.”

Most of the statement focused on the fact that city video surveillance was leaked rather than the allegations of voter fraud. 

Currently seeking his eighth term, Ganim served seven years in prison between his fifth and sixth terms. He was convicted of public corruption in 2003 and was released in 2010. He had served as mayor from 1991 to his conviction and was then reelected in 2015.

Gomes asked a judge for more time to review subpoenaed absentee ballots and video footage.

On Monday, Gomes’s attorney William Bloss told the judge hearing the case that his side would need more time to review all of the materials they subpoenaed before bringing witnesses to the stand. The attorneys are set to meet again with the judge on Oct. 2 to set a schedule for the lawsuit.

Bloss has subpoenaed all 2,624 absentee ballots cast in the election as well as 2,000 hours of surveillance footage from ballot drop boxes across the city. The Connecticut Attorney General’s Office told the judge that the State Elections Enforcement Commission is working to provide all parties with access to the ballots.

Bloss and Gomes are still waiting for the surveillance footage from the city, and they have also subpoenaed the Bridgeport Police Department for internal reports on any footage showing illegal behavior. Bloss argues that the reports will help him sift through the 2,000 hours of footage quickly. However, a lawyer for the police department argued that the subpoena should be quashed since the investigation is still ongoing.

Bloss has also subpoenaed Geter-Pataky and is in contact with her personal attorney. A subpoena means Geter-Pataky must appear, but she can invoke her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and not answer questions.

Ganim supporters sought restricted voters list from a rental rebate program.

Geter-Pataky and Marie Heller, both members of the city’s Democratic Town Committee, sought data from Rosemary Wong, who runs the city’s rental rebate program. That data included the personal information of elderly and disabled Bridport residents.

Wong resisted at first but was later ordered by her boss, former Bridgeport Health Director Ebony Jackson-Shaheed, to turn over the information. She was concerned that Geter-Pataky would use the information to target voters to register for absentee ballots and vote. It is unclear if the data received was used for this purpose before the Sept. 12 primary election.

Lamont has raised concerns, and Republicans blasted Democrats for staying quiet.

The Chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party Ben Proto released a statement this week blasting Democrats for being “befuddled.” 

“Where there is smoke there is fire,” Proto wrote. “I’d say the smoke is actually a full-blown raging inferno that have trapped the Democrats into proof that they regularly try to undermine our elections for their own gain.”

Democrats are uneasily watching events unfold in Bridgeport, one of the party’s strongholds.

Gov. Ned Lamont said the video is alarming on two counts, both calling into question the legitimacy of the Bridgeport primary and adding to the deep cynicism Donald J. Trump has encouraged about the integrity of U.S. elections after losing the presidency in 2020.

‘It’s become an art form:’ Absentee ballots were the crux of Bridgeport election issues over last 5 years.

While throwing out an election is uncommon, it has happened before.

Last year, a judge ordered a new Democratic primary for a state representative seat in Bridgeport. The Superior Court of Bridgeport made that decision due to absentee ballot irregularities, which have come to define the city’s elections.

In 2019, Ganim won a narrow victory against State Rep. Marilyn Moore. Moore had won on election night, only for Ganim to win the election after absentee ballots were tallied.

According to Moore, Geter-Pataky has boasted at Democratic Town Committee meetings that “no one gets elected without Wanda Geter doing absentee ballots.” 

Denise Solano, a candidate for the Bridgeport City Council who submitted one of the complaints for this election to the SEEC, said that when she knocked on one resident’s door, the woman told Solano that Geter-Pataky had already been by to fill out her ballot

“[Geter-Pataky] always comes and fills it out for me, and actually I always call my neighbor and she fills it out for the both of us and takes them with her,” the woman allegedly told Solano.

Connecticut law restricts who can handle absentee ballots. Absentee ballots can only be returned by the ballot applicant, a family member, police officers, local election officials or someone who is caring for an ill or physically disabled person who received an absentee ballot.

“It’s become an art form,” said Christopher L. Caruso, a former state representative from Bridgeport.

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