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February 28, 2024
On Bridgeport primary day, judge denies motion to sequester ballots

As Bridgeport Democrats went to the polls Tuesday morning to vote for either Joe Ganim or John Gomes in a redo of the primary for mayor, the judge who ordered that new election denied a last-minute motion by city attorneys to sequester any absentee ballots that originated from the 1,400 absentee ballot applications obtained by a member of Gomes’ campaign.

Judge William Clark gave no reason why he was not going to sequester the ballots, issuing only a short order that he was sustaining an objection filed by Attorney William Bloss, who is representing Gomes.

The original request filed Monday afternoon by attorney Richard Buturla, who represents the Bridgeport town clerk, asked Clark to conduct an emergency hearing to determine “whether absentee ballots received from voters, who obtained their ballot applications from any of the 1,400 plus absentee ballot applications provided Ms. Denise Solano, be sequestered pending subsequent judicial determination of their validity.”

[RELATED: Bridgeport attorneys ask judge to sequester some absentee ballots]

Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas’ office filed a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission late last week regarding Solano taking out the applications and having others distribute them. It is unclear how many of the 1,400 applications that Solano signed out of the Town Clerk’s Office have been distributed. 

The court filing claims that Solano provided “certain of these application forms to twenty-two volunteers for the Gomes campaign, which volunteers then circulated the same to voters.”

The proposed order asked Clark to order the registrar of voters to sequester any absentee ballots obtained through applications taken out by Solano until the court can determine their validity. 

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Bloss filed a rebuttal late Monday that questioned whether the motion was proper since the city hasn’t substituted new Town Clerk Charlie L. Stallworth, who was elected in November, in place of former clerk Charles Clemons in the case.

Bloss also said the motion presumes that Solano violated election laws, which he argued is not the case because under the law Solano still has time to file with the town clerk a list of applications that were distributed.

Citing state statute, Bloss wrote that while people who distribute applications must keep a list of those who receive them, the list must be filed with the town clerk “prior to the date of the primary, election or referendum.”

“It appears that the canvassers involved in fact did or will submit lists of applications distributed, … fully accounting for all applications,” his filing said.

Clark did not indicate in his order why he granted Bloss’ objection and rejected the motion to sequester the ballots. 

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 apparently placing multiple absentee ballots into one of the four absentee ballot drop boxes in the city.

After five days of testimony, during which Geter-Pataky pleaded the Fifth Amendment against incriminating herself more than 70 times, Clark ordered the new primary for Jan. 23.

[RELATED: Bridgeport primary election overturned; new vote ordered]

“The videos are shocking to the court and should be shocking to all of the parties,” Clark wrote. 

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Clark said the numerous videos of Geter-Pataky delivering ballots to the drop boxes and assisting other people in dropping off ballots suggested she was breaking the state’s election laws.

“These instances do not appear to the court to be random,” Clark wrote in his opinion.

“The issue in this case is not the applications or even the push to deliver absentee votes. The issue is whether that advocacy crossed a line of the established laws. Specifically, whether individuals who were not the voter and were not authorized under statute handled ballots,” Clark said.

An analysis of all the absent ballot applications from the September primary done by The Connecticut Mirror showed that several people affiliated with Ganim’s campaign signed out absentee ballot applications and gave them to Geter-Pataky to distribute, which is illegal under state election laws.

As of Thursday, more than 6,000 absentee ballot applications had been signed out of the Bridgeport town clerk’s office in preparation for Tuesday’s election. Many of the same political operatives who were busy in advance of the Sept. 12 Democratic primary continued to circulate those applications street to street and door to door.

And records show the dueling Democratic campaigns have repeated the strategy of targeting residents primarily in Bridgeport’s low-income apartments and elderly housing units. 

Ganim, who returned to the mayor’s office in 2015 after serving seven years in prison on federal corruption charges, has relied heavily on absentee votes to win many of his most recent elections.

 It was absentee votes that carried Ganim to victory in 2019 when he was challenged in the Democratic primary by state Sen. Marilyn Moore. And last year, he squeaked out two election night wins against Gomes after overcoming a deficit in the in-person vote count.

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