Connecticut lawmakers press for absentee ballot probe into Sept. 12 incident

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Connecticut lawmakers are calling for an investigation and changes in state election laws following allegations of absentee ballot fraud in a mayoral election.

Following the Sept. 12 primary, John Gomes, a Democrat who challenged incumbent Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, released video footage showing a woman depositing absentee ballots into a dropbox a week before the election. Gomes lost to Ganim by 251 mail-in or absentee votes despite beating him at the polls, according to the election results.

Gomes’ campaign has filed a complaint with the state Elections Enforcement Commission as well as a lawsuit asking a state Superior Court judge to prevent the certification of last Tuesday’s primary results and order a new election.

But the growing scandal has prompted Connecticut’s top elected officials to call for investigations, changes in state elections laws, and tougher penalties for voter fraud.

House Republican leader Vincent Candelora said the Bridgeport incident confirms GOP concerns about voting by mail and “poses a direct threat to the public’s fragile confidence in our state’s voting process.”

“Bridgeport residents, and voters statewide, deserve a swift, transparent response to this crisis with strong backing from Democrats at the capitol who promote themselves as defenders of democracy – including taking action in the upcoming special session to suspend use of absentee ballot drop boxes until the investigation is complete,” he said in a statement.

Gov. Ned Lamont has said he wants investigators to “leave no stone unturned” looking into the claims of election fraud in Bridgeport but urged voters “not to jump to conclusions” about the video showing a Ganim supporter – identified by some news outlets as a city worker – stuffing ballots into a dropbox.

In a statement, Ganim denied any wrongdoing and said he doesn’t “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.”

“The Bridgeport Police Department is actively investigating all these matters, and my administration will continue to update the public as we are able to obtain more information,” he said.

Under Connecticut law, absentee ballots can only be returned by the registered voter who filled it out, a family member, law enforcement officers, local election officials or an individual caring for an ill or physically disabled person who received an absentee ballot. Violators face up to five years in prison and $5,000 fines.

Lawmakers, who will meet in a special session this week to deal with unrelated matters, are expected to approve the appointment of a special monitor for Bridgeport’s next mayoral election.

Ben Pronto, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, has also called for an investigation and said Lamont and other top Democrats “should be screaming that it is time to charge the people seen on the video who are violating the law.”

He called for stricter punishment “and actual jail time and larger fines for individuals who attempt to manipulate elections and destroy voters’ confidence in our electoral process.”

“Our elections are too important to be wishy washy or to try to distract voters by pointing to national figures who have nothing to do with this debacle in Bridgeport,” he said in a statement. “It is time for Democrat leaders across Connecticut to join with Republicans and work to make this practice a thing of the past.”

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