BRIDGEPORT – The second day of mayoral candidate John Gomes’ absentee ballot fraud case was underscored by the release of new camera footage allegedly showing Mayor Joe Ganim supporters depositing stacks of absentee ballots into city ballot boxes.
The two people accused of stuffing the boxes – Wanda Geter-Pataky and Eneida Martinez – are at the center of Gomes’ challenge to the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, which ended with Ganim edging out a victory after absentee ballots were counted.
Soon after his loss by about 250 votes, Gomes uploaded a video online of a woman who he claimed was Geter-Pataky, vice chair of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee and operations specialist for the city, dropping a stack of absentee ballots into a local ballot box.
Eighteen minutes of similar footage provided by Bridgeport police was played Friday, as both women took the witness stand at Fairfield Judicial District Superior Court.
The footage appeared to show four instances of Martinez – a former City Council member running alongside Ganim again this year – dropping stacks of ballots in a box on Boston Avenue, and 12 instances of Geter-Pataky either dropping off ballots herself or handing ballots to others from behind her reception desk at Margaret E. Morton Government Center.
Geter-Pataky watched the clips in silence as Bill Bloss, Gomes’ attorney, rattled off questions about the footage.
“Where did you get those ballots?” he asked. “Did you give this man some complete absentee ballots to deposit in the drop box?” “Did you just high-five the gentleman who placed absentee ballots in the drop box?”
But nearly all of Bloss’ questions were met with objections by attorney John Gulash, who represented both Geter-Pataky and Martinez. Invoking their rights against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment, Gulash said his clients could not respond.
Geter-Pataky confirmed her identity in only one of the many clips Bloss played. In the video, she is sitting at her desk when a man walks in. She slides a group of envelopes over to him, and he heads outside the building to drop the envelopes in the ballot box on 999 Broad St.
In her testimony, Martinez neither confirmed nor denied if it was her in the footage.
According to state election laws, absentee ballots may be returned by the ballot applicant, a family member, a police officer, an election official or a caretaker. Anyone who has been designated to give someone a ballot application must also sign that application. Gulash also didn’t allow his clients to answer whether they’d been designated to deposit the ballots for the voters.
Later outside the courthouse, Bloss said he finds it “sad” that election officials and campaign volunteers would take the Fifth, but said the video footage spoke for itself.
“There was concerted activity,” he said. “You see ballots being handed to other people, you see her escorting people with ballots to the drop box.”
In addition to Geter-Pataky and Martinez, Bloss questioned Maurice Nelson – this election cycle’s absentee ballot moderator – about the validity of numerous absentee ballots.
At the Thursday hearing, Bloss pressed the issue of the town clerk’s stamp on counted ballots. According to state law, Town Clerk Charles Clemons, who is also a defendant in the lawsuit, must stamp each ballot he counts with the date, time and his signature. But Bloss pointed out that not all of the ballots included Clemons signature, and argued they never should have been counted by the Registrar of Voters.
On Friday, Nelson said he was aware of the state law and the steps he is required to take to validate and count a ballot. As counsel for both the plaintiff and defendants questioned whether ballots missing a signature should have been counted, his answer teetered.
When Bloss asked if a ballot missing Clemons’ name or signature should have been counted, Nelson replied, “No.” But when the defendants’ attorneys asked whether the stamp used – which read “Town Clerk” and included the date and time – was sufficient, Nelson agreed it was.
“You told me about five minutes ago that without the name of the clerk in writing or printed, the ballot should not be counted,” Bloss countered to Nelson.
Following the hearing, Bloss asserted that between the new footage and the discovery of invalid stamps on numerous absentee ballots, there is irrefutable proof that ballots were mishandled in the Democratic primary.
“Two weeks ago, I said, ‘Look, we need to find out if this is the tip of the iceberg, or if there really isn’t an iceberg,’” Bloss said. “Well, now we know that it was just a small piece of larger, coordinated activity.”
Bloss said he hopes Ganim, who didn’t attend court on Friday, will agree to provide testimony next week.
Gulash and other legal counsel for the defendants did not provide additional comment after the hearing.
The next hearing is scheduled to take place on Tuesday.