A primary election in Connecticut has been overturned by a judge, who said the evidence presented was "shocking."
The Sept. 12 Democrat primary for the race to become Bridgeport's mayor included thousands of absentee ballots. John Gomes, one of the candidates, presented evidence indicating some of the ballots were cast fraudulently.
State law enables absentee voting but contains multiple rules, including that a person who helps distribute more than five absentee applications must register with the town clerk as a distributor.
Wanda Geter-Pataky is a city worker who supports another mayoral candidate, the party-endorsed Mayor Joe Ganim. She and Eneida Martinez, another supporter of Mr. Ganim, did not register as absentee ballot distributors or sign any applications, which is required if they assisted voters, nor were they designated by absentee voters to drop off absentee ballots.
Both women were captured on video dropping off multiple absentee ballots, on multiple occasions, into drop boxes. They each declined to testify during the fraud trial, asserting their Fifth Amendment rights.
Given the violations, the judge said he was "unable to determine the results of the primary." He ordered a new primary election.
In the primary, Mr. Ganim received 4,212 votes, 251 more than Mr. Gomes. Mr. Ganim's total included 1,564 absentee votes, compared to 861 for his challenger.
Under Connecticut law, candidates are able to ask for a new election based on "a mistake in the count of votes cast" or having been "aggrieved by a violation" of state law.
The judge did not schedule a new primary but ordered the city and Mr. Gomes to confer and propose a date.
Denies InvolvementMr. Ganim has served nearly seven terms as Bridgeport's mayor. He was convicted on corruption charges in the past.
In a statement after the video was made public, Mr. Ganim said he wanted to "state unequivocally that I do not condone, in any way, actions taken by anyone including any campaign, city, or elected official, which undermines the integrity of either the electoral process or city property."
Mr. Ganim also said that he was "shocked" by the video evidence.
“Mr. Ganim was also correct to be ‘shocked’ at what he saw on the video clips in evidence that were shown to him while he was on the witness stand,” Judge Clark wrote in his ruling. “The videos are shocking to the court and should be shocking to all the parties."
City officials had argued that absent testimony from the voters themselves, the primary should not be overturned.
The judge said that argument amounted to asking the court "to ignore the significant mishandling of ballots by partisans that were caught on video flouting the mandatory provisions of Connecticut law."
He added: "To do so would undermine the clear intention of the statutes which specifically prohibit such ballot contact and would endorse this blatant practice of ballot harvesting. It would also endorse the illegal conduct engaged in by these partisan actors and the improper counting of invalid votes."
Mr. Gomes welcomed the ruling in a statement.
"Today, Lady Justice fulfilled her duty. She attentively heard the voices of the people of Bridgeport, carefully considered the facts, and impartially applied the law, as justice should always be served," he said.
"The victory today belongs not only to me as the Plaintiff but to all the people of Bridgeport who were wronged in the numerous ways detailed in Judge Clark's remarkable decision. Today, democracy prevails," he added.
The city of Bridgeport could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Ganim said in a statement that the decision was substantial and that he would "wait to be apprised by the lawyers as to whether or not they want to take an appeal."
"But what hasn't changed, and what's really important, is this November 7th, Tuesday, in the city of Bridgeport is Election Day," Mr. Ganim added. "It's a general election for mayor and all the municipal offices. I'm the endorsed Democratic candidate on the top line, and I'm asking everyone to come out and vote in this election. Let's send a powerful message that we want to keep the progress going in Bridgeport.”
Connecticut Secretary of State Stephanie Thomas, a Democrat, told news outlets in a statement she was pleased with the ruling.
“The Court’s finding that there was a ‘significant mishandling of ballots’ should be of great concern to all,” Ms. Thomas said. “Our office will continue to advocate for policies such as drop box surveillance, a Connecticut Election Court, and investment in voter education—all of which will strengthen our election system.”
Stamp QuestionMr. Gomes also challenged the stamp used by city officials when processing the ballots, because the stamp did not contain the required town clerk's signature.
The stamp is placed on the envelopes in which the absentee ballots are contained.
The clerk's office later alleged the stamp with the signature was damaged and not able to be used, resulting in the use of a more generic stamp.
The judge ruled that the stamp was in "substantial compliance" with state law despite the missing signature, finding that invalidating "virtually all absentee ballots in this primary would have far reaching impacts to disenfranchise voters, through no fault of their own."