STAMFORD – About a year after she was elected town clerk in 2017, Lyda Ruijter discovered an odd database in her office computer files.
It contained information “that never should have been there,” Ruijter said Thursday.
The data listed 230 Stamford residents who’d voted by absentee ballot in the 2017 municipal election, according to Ruijter. She did not understand why the names were separated from the full list of absentee voters, she said.
In any given election, there should be exactly one list of absentee voters, she said.
Ruijter, a Democrat, said she was surprised to see that many of the names on the short list were those of friends, neighbors and contributors who supported her 2017 election, when she unseated longtime Republican Town Clerk Donna Loglisci.
“I thought, ‘What is this?’” Ruijter, now in her second term as town clerk, said Thursday. “I thought, ‘I don’t know what I’m looking at.’”
Over the following months Ruijter analyzed the two sets of data. She said she found that the names on the short list also appeared on the full list, but with different ballot identification numbers.
Ruijter said she concluded that two sets of absentee ballots may have been issued for the 230 voters on the short list.
She continued examining the data and found something else strange, Ruijter said.
Many absentee voters on the short list did not return their ballots to the town clerk’s office. But the full list showed that those same absentee voters did return their ballots, Ruijter said.
Further examination revealed that the converse was also true, according to Ruijter – the data showed that voters on the short list who were marked as having returned their ballots were marked on the full list as not having returned them.
The upshot of the conflicting sets of data was that the total number of voters who’d returned their absentee ballots was about the same, Ruijter found.
Whoever created the data understood that, on election day, moderators would have to certify that the total number of absentee ballots matched the total number of absentee voters, Ruijter concluded.
She put that together with something she knew as a candidate in the 2017 town clerk’s race.
Her opponent, Loglisci, had lost the election with 44 percent of the in-person vote, Ruijter said. But Loglisci had won 62 percent of the absentee ballot vote.
By March 2019, Ruijter had finished reviewing the absentee ballot data, and sat down to write a letter to the FBI.
“It is with dismay that I need to report fraudulent handling of (absentee) ballots during the November 2017 election in the town clerk’s office in Stamford,” Ruijter wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by CT Examiner.
Her research had identified an “intricate illegal scenario” that, to succeed, required knowledge of the complex absentee balloting system, Ruijter told the FBI.
For example, she said, the ballots on the short list were created using new identification numbers that were affixed to ballot envelopes. But envelopes are not checked on election day, so moderators counting absentee ballots would not see envelope numbers, Ruijter told the FBI.
The names of people who supported her could have been identified using their addresses, zip codes and campaign contribution reports, which are filed in the town clerk’s office, Ruijter told the FBI.
She said the scenario could have unfolded in this way: When absentee ballots that arrived in the town clerk’s office were identified as likely Ruijter voters, someone could have entered them as “returned” on the full voter list, then discarded them and replaced them with ballots with new identification numbers. The new ballots, recorded on the short list, could have been marked for Loglisci and then reported on the full list.
In her letter Ruijter told the FBI that, at election time, Loglisci and select staff members sometimes worked “for many hours after closing,” once prompting a union grievance that overtime was unfairly offered only to the two clerks designated to issue absentee ballots.
The scenario Ruijter reported, would have happened as a ballot-fraud case involving the previous municipal election was unfolding.
In fact, knowledge of Ruijter’s letter came to light during the just-concluded trial of John Mallozzi, former chairman of the Stamford Democratic City Committee, who was in court on 14 counts of 2nd-degree forgery and 14 counts of false statement in absentee balloting in the 2015 election.
A state Superior Court judge Monday found Mallozzi guilty of all 28 Class D felonies. They could result in up to five years in prison, up to $140,000 in fines, or both. Mallozzi is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 14.
Near the end of the trial, Mallozzi’s attorney, Stephan Seeger, informed the judge that he had just obtained documents he’d subpoenaed from the city, including Ruijter’s letter to the FBI. Because the FBI could be conducting an investigation, the judge said he was obligated to inform the witnesses that they could jeopardize themselves by testifying, and under the law they were allowed to refuse.
All but one refused.
Seeger has said he will appeal the verdict, partly on the grounds that Mallozzi did not have an opportunity to question the witnesses against him, as guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment.
During the trial, Loglisci, a witness for the state, testified that she handed over absentee ballots to Mallozzi in violation of state law. She was not charged in the case.
A phone message left for Loglisci Thursday was not returned.
Asked by email Thursday to comment on an apparent FBI investigation of Stamford’s 2017 election, spokesman Charles Grady of the New Haven office replied, “Can’t at this time.” The FBI by practice does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations.
But Ruijter said that, some time after she sent the letter, the FBI requested documents and interviewed people in her office. And last year the Office of the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut issued the city a grand jury subpoena seeking copies of the 2017 election databases; computer logs; emails between Loglisci and two of her staffers, Diane Pesiri and Maria Stabile; records of their overtime pay; and other documents related to the 2017 election.
Contacted by email Thursday, Pesiri responded, “No comment.”
Stabile did not reply to an email.
In the 2017 election, incumbent Mayor David Martin, a Democrat, easily defeated Republican Barry Michelson, and voters filled slots on the Board of Representatives, Board of Finance and Board of Education.
Ruijter said Thursday that assigning absentee ballots to voters who request them is “a very exact, complex and precise process.” Each ballot is numbered. If a voter loses a ballot or it never arrives in the mail, a replacement cannot be issued without the town clerk voiding the original one, Ruijter said.
“The system of protection is so important,” she said. “There is a sacred principle – each voter gets one ballot, and each ballot is designated for one voter.”
Ruijter said she vouches “for the honesty of town clerks.”
They are “law-abiding, serious public servants,” Ruijter said. “It’s not easy to fuss with elections and ballots. It’s not easily done.”