(The Center Square) — A Connecticut judge has ordered a new Democratic mayoral primary in Bridgeport after reviewing surveillance videos showing a woman stuffing absentee ballots into drop boxes.
In a ruling issued Wednesday, state Superior Court Judge William Clark said the allegations of voter fraud are “shocking” and tossed out the results of the Sept. 12 primary, which incumbent Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim won by 251 votes, with absentee ballots securing his slim margin of victory.
“The volume of ballots so mishandled is such that it calls the result of the primary election into serious doubt and leaves the court unable to determine the legitimate result of the primary,” Clark wrote in the 37-page ruling.
John Gomes, a Democrat who challenged incumbent Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, released video footage after the primary showing a woman, identified as a city worker, depositing absentee ballots into a dropbox a week before the election. Another video later surfaced of another woman stuffing ballots into a dropbox.
Gomes lost to Ganim by 251 mail-in or absentee votes despite beating him at the polls, according to results.
Following the election, Gomes’ campaign filed a complaint with the state Elections Enforcement Commission and a lawsuit in the state Superior Court seeking to block the certification of the primary results and order a new election.
Ganim has 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.”
Gomes praised the judge’s ruling and said it restores “faith, integrity and transparency” to the city’s election process.
“This is a victory for the people of Bridgeport,” he said in a statement on Wednesday. “An election won by breaking the rules isn’t a fair election.”
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.
Despite the ruling, the Nov. 7 election will go ahead with Ganim appearing on the ballot as the Democratic nominee and Gomes as an independent. Republican David Herz and Lamond Daniels are also on the mayoral ballot.
Bridgeport voters will likely have to decide the race again when state elections officials set a new Democratic primary. Clark didn’t set a date in his ruling.
Conservative media outlets have highlighted Connecticut’s ballot stuffing scandal as an example of the potential for voter fraud in mail-in voting systems.
It has also prompted Connecticut’s top elected officials to demand investigations, changes in state elections laws, and tougher penalties for voter fraud.
Gov. Ned Lamont, New Jersey’s Democratic standard-bearer, has called on 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 ballot stuffing video and the state’s mail voting system.
Ben Pronto, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, has called for stricter punishment for individuals “who attempt to manipulate elections and destroy voters’ confidence in our electoral process.”