This story has been updated.
Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim, whose victory in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary has been challenged by his opponent John Gomes, has been subpoenaed to testify in the case in Superior Court.
When Ganim will take the stand is uncertain, Gomes’ attorney, William Bloss, said Thursday. But depending on how quickly the testimony of others is completed, Ganim could appear on Monday, Bloss said.
Ganim is a named party in Gomes’ complaint, but he has not appeared and has not had an attorney file an appearance on his behalf, unlike other city officials who have been asked to testify.
Ganim defeated Gomes by a total of 251 votes. Ganim received 694 more votes on absentee ballots than Gomes did, according to the complaint.
Gomes filed the lawsuit last month after surveillance footage emerged that allegedly shows a Ganim supporter depositing absentee ballots into a drop box outside the city’s Government Center ahead of the Sept. 12 primary.
The hearing before Judge William Clark began Thursday morning with Bloss calling two witnesses: a Bridgeport police captain who oversees the city’s 3,000 surveillance cameras, and an assistant town clerk.
The person in that video, captured on Sept. 5, is alleged to be Wanda Geter-Pataky, the vice chairwoman of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee.
She was placed on leave by the city from her job as a receptionist at Government Center days after the video became public and the State Elections Enforcement Commission opened an investigation.
Geter-Pataky has been subpoenaed to testify at the hearing, and Bloss said she is scheduled to appear Friday afternoon. Geter-Pataky has hired a private attorney.
The first day of what could be a two-week hearing started late on Thursday, as attorneys met in chambers for nearly an hour with Clark, ironing out exhibit lists. Bloss said that the day would me spent on “getting evidence into the record.”
The first witness Bloss called was Bridgeport Police Captain Paul Grech, who oversees the department’s Fusion Center, where officers monitor more than 3,000 surveillance cameras set up around the city.
Grech said that some of the cameras monitor the four election drop boxes located across the city, including the one at Government Center where the woman was seen depositing papers into it.
The department turned over about 2,104 hours of surveillance videos of the four drop boxes from Aug. 22 until Sept. 14. Bloss has indicated he expects to present snippets of those videos, allegedly showing people illegally dropping multiple absentee ballots into the drop boxes.
Grech acknowledged that 12 hours of video was erased while officers were copying the files for the attorneys and the State Elections Enforcement Commission. He was not pressed by any of the attorneys to describe in any greater detail what might have been lost.
Attorneys for the city are expected to produce their own videos allegedly showing Gomes campaign workers placing ballots into the drop boxes.
But Bloss said he needs to do more than present isolated videos involving a handful of ballots in a case where the margin of victory was much more than a few votes.
Bloss is expected to base his argument that a new primary is needed on simple numbers.
Bloss and other attorneys at the Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder law firm reviewed more than 2,000 hours of security videos of all four of the drop boxes in the city from Aug. 22 to Sept. 12, Bloss said.
They isolated and counted every person who made a deposit into one of the boxes, and while he wouldn’t reveal the numbers, Bloss said “there’s an overwhelming number of absentee ballots that were put into the drop box compared to the number of people on the video dropping them in.”
Bloss said that raises the question of whether some people illegally put multiple envelopes containing ballots into the drop boxes.
He called Assistant Town Clerk Christina Resto as his second witness of the day to explain the complicated absentee ballot process to Clark, who will decide whether to order a new primary or let Ganim’s victory stand.
Bloss was specifically trying to get Resto to describe the different ways that people get absentee ballot applications and then how they submit the ballots once they receive them.
Resto testified there are four ways absentee ballots are returned to the clerk’s office: in person themselves, by a third party in person who must be designated to return it, supervised ballots, and by mail.
But mail ballots include those sent through the post office as well as those placed in the drop boxes. Bloss pressed Resto on how they know which ones are from a drop box, saying any envelopes that do not have a stamp or a postal service sticker were likely placed in a drop box.
But Resto said sometimes people place ballots in the drop with a stamp them and that sometimes the post office doesn’t stamp them through their system. She did acknowledge those numbers are small.
Resto also said in this September primary that the clerk received a lot more mailed in absentee ballots than usual from people who personally requested them.
She did acknowledge the “large majority” of absentee ballot applications are distributed by the campaigns, who sign up for hundreds of a time. They are required to keep a log of the ballots, which are numbered, and to return any that they don’t distribute.
In the afternoon court session, Democratic Registrar of Voters Patricia Howard told Bloss that she wasn’t aware that state election laws required the town clerk to sign the outer envelope of an absentee ballot when they receive it. Howard said he knew the town clerk time stamped it and dated it, but not that it needed to be signed. Bloss had shown her an envelope that was not signed by Town Clerk Clarence Clemens.
“As long as it was stamped, I thought it was OK and that it didn’t need a signature,” Howard testified, adding she didn’t know that was the law until Bloss pointed it out during her testimony.
Under cross examination, attorney Richard Burturla asked her if the time stamp said “Town Clerk” on it making it “substantially accurate” and Howard answered yes.
Outside of the courtroom, Bloss said he was surprised at Howard’s answer.
“It’s a statutory requirement that the endorsement of the town clerk contain the signature, and that has been the law in Connecticut since the 1980s,” Bloss said. “I guess they were not aware of that, and she really didn’t have an explanation why.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that absentee ballots are distributed by campaigns. Absentee ballot applications may be distributed by campaigns, not ballots.