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Connecticut elections chief calls for reforms after ballot stuffing scandal

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(The Center Square) — Connecticut’s top election official is calling for election reforms in the wake of a ballot stuffing scandal in Bridgeport’s mayoral race, where some people were allegedly paid cash to fill out mail ballots.

Secretary of State Stephanie Thomas said her office had referred allegations about election “malfeasance” in the February redo of the mayoral race to the State Elections Enforcement Commission to investigate, including reports from voters who received absentee ballots despite not requesting them.

“When alerted, the Secretary of the State’s Office is required to send allegations of election malfeasance to SEEC for their review and decision to investigate if any laws were broken,” Thomas, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Referrals are not proof of wrongdoing, but an important step to ensure that our elections are secure.”

The allegations include claims that one campaign offered cash in return for completed absentee ballots and a complaint from a voter who reported that someone arrived at his home to help him with his ballot, asked him to sign unknown paperwork and took his ballot.

Suspicious activity at drop boxes was discovered during a review of footage from surveillance cameras, according to Thomas’ office.

Incumbent Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim won reelection in the February mayor contest after a challenge from John Gomes, a Democrat who ran on the Independent Party line. Republican David Herz came in a distant third, according to the Secretary of the State’s website.

The election redo was called after several of the mayor’s political supporters were captured on camera depositing absentee ballots into drop boxes ahead of last September’s Democratic primary.

Thomas said the observations of election monitors in the Bridgeport mayoral race demonstrates the need to “close loopholes” in the state’s election laws and said she is backing several bills aimed at preventing abuse of the vote-by-mail and drop box system.

“Our office is committed to doing what we can to ensure that not just Bridgeport’s citizens trust the elections process, but all of Connecticut does,” Thomas said.

One proposal would require surveillance of absentee ballot drop boxes by elections officials, the retention of the footage, and modifications for how absentee ballot data is recorded and reported.

The bill would also limit who can request replacement absentee ballots and shorten the timeframe to request absentee ballots.

Thomas has also thrown her support behind a proposal to create a 17-member board with the authority to require training, monitor elections, and better define the jurisdiction between the Secretary of State’s office and the SEEC when investigating election fraud.

Republican legislative leaders blasted the latest disclosure about the Bridgeport scandal, calling the report “a devastating reminder that our state offers bad actors the capacity to manipulate the outcome of our elections without fear.”

They are calling for criminal sanctions for ballot stuffing and other election-related fraud.

“Right now, bad actors keep breaking our election laws because they have no fear of going to jail,” Senate Republican Minority Leader Stephen Harding and House Republican Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said in a joint statement. “Our laws need to have teeth so people will think twice before they engage in this activity. It is the only way to stop it.”

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