After days of testimony about absentee ballot box surveillance videos and an hour sparring with Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim about what they show, attorney William Bloss called one last witness on Tuesday.
Ganim had left the courthouse to hold a press conference when Bloss, who represents Ganim’s challenger John Gomes in his effort to overturn the results of the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, called Gomes’ campaign manager Christine Bartlett-Josie to the stand to testify about how many absentee ballots were deposited into drop boxes.
Bloss, a veteran of numerous election challenges, knows any chance of getting Ganim’s victory overturned comes down to convincing Judge William Clark that the numbers just don’t add up.
Gomes lost by 251 votes, more than most election challenges, which are usually fought over a small number of ballots. And Bloss has said he needs to prove widespread fraud to get Gomes the new primary he seeks.
Bartlett-Josie told the court that, according to her review of about 2,500 envelopes containing absentee ballots that were submitted to the Town Clerk’s office, at least 1,255 had neither a postage stamp nor a postmark — meaning, she said, that they were either placed in drop boxes or hand delivered to the clerk’s office.
Bloss then showed Bartlett-Josie a video compilation of everyone who appeared to place a ballot in one of the city’s four drop boxes between Aug. 22 and Sept. 12, which totaled about 420 people — raising the question of how the other 835 ballots with no postage or postmark got to the Town Clerk.
“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 in an interview after the hearing.
“There’s really only two answers to that question, and neither of them is legal,” Bloss said. “Either some of those people in the videos were dropping multiple ballots into the drop boxes, as some of the videos show, or someone brought a large bag of ballots directly to the Town Clerk’s office.”
But during cross examination, attorneys Richard Burturla and John Kennelly argued that Bartlett-Josie’s data wasn’t as clear as it seemed.
Bartlett-Josie acknowledged that she did not know that, on the last two days before the primary, the Bridgeport postmaster pulls any absentee ballots from the mail and doesn’t send them to the Westchester distribution center, where they would be postmarked, and instead has them delivered directly to the Town Clerk’s office.
In such cases, the outer envelopes would have a stamp and not a postmark. There were 356 such envelopes, Bartlett-Josie said, although it is unclear how many were delivered over the last two days.
It’s unclear if Bloss will call anymore witnesses when the hearing resumes on Thursday. Clark gave the attorneys Wednesday off so that Bloss could review the list of Bridgeport residents that received funds through the state’s Renters’ Rebate program.
The state was expected to turn over the list of more than 3,800 renter rebate recipients to the court on Tuesday, and Bloss asked for a day to review it and compare the list to people who received absentee ballot applications to decide whether he would call witnesses to testify about the program.
The Connecticut Mirror reported last month that Rosemary Wong, who ran Bridgeport’s renters’ rebate program for years, initially resisted plans to give Marie Heller and Wanda Geter-Pataky — two members of the city’s Democratic Town Committee — access to data that included personal information for elderly and disabled residents in the city.
But Wong was eventually ordered by her boss, former Bridgeport Health Director Ebony Jackson-Shaheed, to drop those objections and provide the two women with the information they were seeking, documents show.
While Geter-Pataky did not get access to the state portal, she was provided the renters’ rebate appointment schedule, with Wong’s office giving her access to the names.
During his testimony, Ganim said since Geter-Pataky was the “greeter” at the Government Center, she would have had a role in “knowing who was coming into the building and where they were going.”
Ganim said he had no idea Wong had made a complaint to OPM before she retired earlier this year.
Neither Burturla nor Kennelly have indicated whether they will call witnesses to testify. They have submitted exhibits indicating they have some videos of their own that could show Gomes supporters placing absentee ballots into drop boxes.
The judge has told attorneys he wants the testimony wrapped up either way by Friday. He then will give them a truncated briefing schedule, because he wants to issue a decision before the end of the month.
At his press conference, Ganim acknowledged the hearing has made it difficult on the November election where Gomes is challenging him as the Independent Party candidate.
Ganim also made it clear that he doesn’t believe the case presented by Bloss compels the judge to overturn his primary victory.
“What the court is going to have to decide here is was there a mistake in the count of the vote. And if there was, does it have a serious impact on the outcome,” Ganim said. “My sense is that that is not what you’re going to see at the end of this case, but it’s up to the court to make that decision.”