An absentee ballot scandal in Connecticut’s second-largest city, Stamford, resulted in forgery convictions for the Democratic Party chief.
But an absentee ballot scandal now raging in the state’s largest city, Bridgeport, is so significant that there’s a chance the results of the Sept. 12 Democratic Party primary could be thrown out.
It began when former Bridgeport Chief Administrative Officer John Gomes challenged Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and won at the polls, only to get crushed after the absentee ballots were counted. Gomes has sued Ganim and state and city election officials, asking the court to put him on the ballot for the Nov. 7 election, or schedule a new primary.
A judge will take it up Monday.
Evidence in the case includes sworn complaints filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission by Gomes campaign staffers who depict a system steeped in corruption.
Their accounts describe violations of state election laws that require that an absentee ballot may be returned only by the person who applied for it, a family member, a police officer, an election official, or someone caring for a ballot applicant who is ill or disabled:
- Gomes supporter Denise Solano claimed in a sworn statement that on Aug. 28 she knocked on the door of an apartment in a multi-family home on Morningside Drive and was greeted by an older woman who appeared nervous and apologetic. The woman said she, her husband and their disabled son wanted to vote for Gomes but would vote for Ganim because Wanda Geter, who works in Ganim’s office and serves as vice chair of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee, promised her a Section 8 voucher if she did so. According to Solano, the woman said the family struggles to pay rent and medical expenses, and fears homelessness. Solano reported that the woman asked whether the Gomes campaign would provide a Section 8 voucher for a handicapped-accessible apartment so the family could vote for Gomes, like they wanted, instead of Ganim.
- Solano claimed that on Aug. 28 a woman who answered the door to an apartment on Charles Street said she’d already given her ballot to Geter. Solano reported that she told the woman that no one is supposed to take her ballot, and the woman replied, “Oh, no, (Geter) always comes and fills it out for me.” The woman said she calls her neighbor to come down to her apartment and Geter fills out the neighbor’s ballot, too, and takes them both with her. Solano reported that the woman seemed to think that’s how it works, and was grateful to Geter for the favor.
- Solano claimed that on Sept. 4 a man called her to complain that a leading city councilwoman was calling him repeatedly to ask when she could pick up the two absentee ballots she’d left with his household.
- Solano claimed that on Sept. 9 a man from Remington Street called to tell her he was on his way into his polling place to vote for Gomes when he was approached by a city councilwoman who told him, in that case, vote line A. The man got angry because he knew Gomes was on line B. He told Solano that the city councilwoman “really tried to trick me and confuse me.” Solano said she heard the man tell the city councilwoman that he was going to report her because she was deceiving people.
- Another Gomes supporter, Kim McLaughlin, claimed in a sworn statement to the SEEC that on Sept. 7 she knocked on the door in a cooperative and asked to speak with a male voter. The woman who answered said the same city councilwoman who’d told the Remington Street voter to vote line A had already been to the apartment, given the male voter an absentee ballot to fill out, then took it with her, McLaughlin reported.
- McLaughlin claimed that on Sept. 7 she knocked on another door at the cooperative and asked for a voter but the woman who answered said no one by that name lived there. McLaughlin reported that she told the woman that the Bridgeport election office sent a ballot to that address at that voter’s request. The woman replied that a ballot had come to her unit and she had used it to vote.
- McLaughlin claimed that on Sept. 4 a woman in an apartment on Grant Street told her she had filled out an absentee ballot and a woman came to pick it up.
- McLaughlin claimed that on Aug. 29 she knocked on the door of an apartment on Read Street and asked for a voter but the woman who answered said the man didn’t live there anymore. On Aug. 31, however, the Bridgeport election office received an absentee ballot from a man with that name and address, McLaughlin reported.
- McLaughlin claimed that on Aug. 23 she knocked on a door on Waterman Street and asked for a voter but the person who answered said no one by that name lived there. On Aug. 25, however, the Bridgeport election office received an absentee ballot from a man with that name and address, McLaughlin reported.
A hot drop box?
SEEC officials, who subpoenaed all of the absentee ballots cast in Bridgeport’s Sept. 12 primary, have said they also are investigating a video that shows a woman putting absentee ballots into a drop box outside Bridgeport city hall the week before the primary. The Gomes campaign alleges the woman in the video is Geter.
In June, the SEEC completed an absentee ballot fraud investigation that took nearly four years and referred three people to the chief state’s attorney’s office to consider criminal charges. Geter was one of the three referrals, according to published reports.
CT Examiner was unable to reach Geter Thursday.
SEEC spokesman Josh Foley did not return a request for comment.
Corruption in Bridgeport has swirled around the mayor’s office for years.
Ganim first was elected mayor in 1991 and held the office for 12 years, until he got caught taking bribes and kickbacks. He was convicted of extortion, racketeering and other crimes, and served seven years in prison. In 2015 he ran for mayor again and won, and has been in the seat ever since.
In the Sept. 12 primary Ganim got 4,212 total votes and Gomes got a total of 3,961 votes, according to Gomes’ lawsuit. The difference was 251 votes.
But, counting absentee ballots alone, Gomes got 851 votes and Ganim got nearly double – 1,545.
Ganim has denied any wrongdoing and said he welcomes the SEEC investigation.
A ballot forgery ‘scheme’
In Stamford, former Democratic City Committee Chair John Mallozzi, convicted one year ago of 14 counts of ballot forgery, has his case in appeals court. Mallozzi was sentenced to 13 months in prison, suspended after two years of probation, and a $35,000 fine in the case involving Stamford’s 2015 municipal election.
It came to light when a man was told at his polling place that he could not vote because he’d already filled out an absentee ballot. But it turned out that a ballot had been taken out in the man’s name without his knowledge. Investigators traced the ballot to Mallozzi, and later found 13 others that appeared to be forged.
According to the trial record, Mallozzi was involved in a “scheme” with former Republican Town Clerk Donna Loglisci, who admitted she broke the law by giving him ballots. Prosecutors, however, brought no charges against Loglisci.
The absentee ballot system needs a lot of cleaning up, said Gemeem Davis, president of Bridgeport Generation Now Votes.
“I hope we’re at an inflection point, a watershed moment that allows real reform to come to Bridgeport. It’s long overdue,” Davis said of her hometown. “We need a fully functioning democracy.”
Two years ago her organization joined with other activist groups to form a coalition called Unrig Bridgeport. The goal is to “fix Bridgeport’s broken democracy,” because too many residents feel that their voice, and their vote, don’t matter, and they are refusing to participate in municipal elections because they think the game is rigged, Davis said.
A mattress for a vote
The group lobbied the state legislature for an election monitor, Davis said, and funding for the monitor is expected to be extended during an upcoming special session of the state legislature.
An earlier iteration of the group produced a documentary about the abuse of absentee ballot voting in facilities for senior citizens, Davis said.
“The stories were heartbreaking. Seniors from different facilities explained how their buildings would be swamped with political operatives during election seasons,” Davis said. “These political people would force their way into apartments and promise the seniors groceries, mattresses. They would figure out what they needed and promise it to them in exchange for their vote.”
Her group has written to the governor, the secretary of the state, and leaders of the Connecticut Democratic Party, saying “you have to denounce this,” Davis said.
“We need stricter laws. We have to be serious about it. Otherwise I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Davis said. “Bridgeport has been dealing with an authoritarian system of government for a long time now. We need help with this.”