A dramatic five-day court hearing into the use of absentee ballots in the recent Bridgeport Democratic mayoral primary ended quietly Thursday with no additional witnesses called to the stand.
In the first few days of the hearing challenging Mayor Joseph Ganim’s victory over challenger John Gomes, witnesses asserted their Fifth Amendment rights, and attorneys presented hours of video showing people approaching absentee ballot drop boxes.
But on Thursday, attorneys representing city officials named in Gomes’ complaint said they weren’t going to call any witnesses. Judge William Clark closed the proceedings at 10:36 a.m.
Rather than hear oral arguments, Clark ordered the attorneys to submit their written briefs to him by Oct. 25. He then said both sides would have until Oct. 27 to file reply briefs. While Clark did not indicate when he would issue a written ruling, attorneys for both sides said they expected him to do so before Election Day.
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 placing multiple absentee ballots into one of the four absentee ballot drop boxes in the city.
Geter-Pataky and city council challenger Eneida Martinez asserted their Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions from Gomes’ attorney William Bloss after he showed multiple videos of them putting absentee ballots into drop boxes.
During a press conference after the hearing, Bloss said the videos are at the heart of their case.
“We don’t have to prove that there were 252 bad ballots,” Bloss said. “We just have to prove that because of what we’ve all seen on those videos … the result of the primary is seriously in doubt.”
Bloss said he doesn’t believe the case is very complicated for the judge to decide.
“The judge has to find, first of all, have there been violations of election statutes,” Bloss said. “I’m way past that. There were clearly violations of the election statutes on those videos.”
“The second thing that he must find is, as a result of those violations, is the result of the primary seriously in doubt? That’s going to be the entire core of the ruling,” Bloss said. “I believe, based on the videos, based on the absentee ballot counts compared to the number of people using the drop box, that the answer to that is yes, because there are so many more absentee ballots without postmarks than people who used the drop box.”
In his own press conference, attorney John Kennelly, who represented Democratic Registrar of Voters Patricia Howard, said the videos don’t tell the story that Gomes wants them to.
“What we saw during this trial is that video clips were played, and for me, who watched all of those video clips, the only thing they proved is that it rained a lot during the primaries,” Kennelly said.
“Not one voter was placed on that stand to say there was irregularity in how the votes were cast and how they were tallied. That did not occur, and without such proof, there is no evidence of any election irregularities,” he added.
Kennelly acknowledged that both Geter-Pataky and Martinez asserting their Fifth Amendment rights and refusing to answer questions is not a good look, but he said neither has anything to do with his client.
Geter-Pataky asserted her Fifth Amendment rights through her attorney 71 times when she testified last week. Bloss showed her several videos of what appeared to be her handing ballots to people to place in the drop box outside Government Center where she worked and, in one case, high-fiving someone after they had placed ballots into it.
“How does Wanda Geter taking the Fifth have anything to do with how my clients counted absentee ballots?It doesn’t. Wanda Geter wasn’t in the room, Wanda Geter didn’t have anything to do with that office,” Kennelly said. “So potentially did some negative or questionable conduct occur? Yeah, but is it enough to overturn the votes of the people of Bridgeport? No, it’s not.”
Gomes, who for the first time was not in the courtroom Thursday, is running as an independent candidate in the general election, and the results of that race may make Clark’s ruling moot.
Bloss said the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that the judge does not have the authority to postpone the general election, only to order a new primary.
“If there was a new primary ordered, and John Gomes wins on the Independent Party line in November, the court case would end, in my view, because he would have already gotten the relief he sought in court,” Bloss said.
If Clark were to order a new primary, that could lead to a second primary even if Ganim wins the general election.