Representatives for Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and his challenger John Gomes are far apart on their suggested dates for a new court-ordered Democratic mayoral primary, making it likely that Judge William Clark will have to decide when people will return to the polls for a third round of voting.
Gomes wants the primary to be held on Dec. 19, which would shorten the time available for absentee ballots to be distributed and returned. Attorneys for the city are suggesting a Jan. 16 primary because of all the election rules that must be followed, as well as the need to produce a new ballot and new absentee ballot applications.
Attorney John Kennelly, who is representing Registrar of Voters Patricia Howard in the negotiations, said Monday that a “December primary is impossible.”
“I firmly believe that the emphasis for completing this special primary should be doing it well as opposed to doing it fast,” Kennelly wrote in his four-page proposal, distributed to attorneys from both political camps as well as the attorney general’s office and the secretary of the state.
“None of us can deny that scheduling the primary between Thanksgiving and Christmas will create significant logistical challenges and operate as a suppressant on voter turnout,” Kennelly added.
Gomes challenged the results of the Sept. 12 primary based on video evidence that showed Ganim supporters allegedly depositing stacks of absentee ballots into drop boxes in the city. State law prohibits individuals from handling other voters’ ballots, unless they are a family member, caregiver or “designee” for those people.
Clark ordered the attorneys involved in Gomes’ lawsuit to begin discussions about when to hold a second primary on Nov. 1, and they have met three times since then.
But the various parties had yet to reach a consensus on a new election date by Monday.
Clark ruled that if an agreement was reached, it had to be filed by Nov. 15. If there is no agreement, the attorneys will have until Friday to file their various proposals.
Clark would then review all the proposed dates and decide when the primary will be held.
If Ganim were to win that second primary, he would be elected mayor. If Gomes were to win, a second general election would have to be scheduled — this time, with Gomes on the Democratic line.
Gomes’ attorney, William Bloss, initially sought a Dec. 12 primary date, while the lawyers for the Secretary of the State proposed the election be held on Dec. 19. Bloss said Monday that Gomes is willing to approve the Dec. 19 date.
Elizabeth Benton, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said she could not comment on the negotiations because they were still in progress.
“These are ongoing discussions,” Benton said.
In his proposal for a January election, Kennelly lays out several reasons why it would be difficult to have the primary in December.
Kennelly said because the Nov. 7 general election included city council candidates, the machines and the memory cards must be sealed for 14 days post-election, then be cleared and prepared for a new election.
Conducting the special primary will require approximately 250 trained and certified primary workers. Kennelly said many are “Bridgeport Board of Education employees who have either scheduled the time off or have the day off” and won’t be available because there is no plan right now to close the schools for the new primary. That means Howard, the registrar of voters, will have to train and certify 125 to 200 new workers during the holiday season.
But Christine Bartlett-Josie, Gomes campaign manager, argued that local election officials and the secretary of the state’s office should be able to find trained election workers from other parts of Connecticut in order to hold the primary in December.
“We run special elections in this state. We can do this,” she said. “If you are saying you are lacking those resources, go get those resources.”
Barlett-Josie said the Gomes campaign wants to see the court-ordered primary held in December to curb the amount of time that campaigns could focus on soliciting absentee votes.
“We are only in this situation because there was crime committed in the first election,” Bartlett Josie said. “We know the system. We know what they do. And we do not want a long lead-up. We do not want to give them an opportunity to play the same games they did in the past.”
Meanwhile, both Bloss and Kennelly sent letters to the State Elections Enforcement Commission seeking guidance on fundraising for the second primary.
Both camps are want a ruling on whether they can seek additional funding for the new primary without violating state campaign financing laws.
Ganim has said he is planning to be sworn in as mayor on Dec. 1 despite the court challenge hanging over the whole process. Since the election, Ganim has called Gomes a two-time loser who should drop his court challenge and “respect the will of the cities voters.”
But Gomes has shown no signs of stopping his fight, calling his narrow loss on election night “déjà vu all over again,” because, as with the primary, he was leading in the machine vote at one point by more than 500 votes, only to lose once again once the absentee votes were counted.
“We beat this incumbent, and the Democratic machine that has been entrenched in Bridgeport for decades, twice at the polls, and the only way they could beat us is by absentee ballot, which is done in the dark,” Gomes said in a recent radio interview.