BRIDGEPORT — In his first court appearance since hearings in John Gomes’ absentee ballot fraud case began last week, Mayor Joe Ganim denied any involvement in ballot box stuffing to win the city’s Democratic primary.
“I was shocked by what appeared in those videos,” Ganim said Tuesday from the witness stand at Fairfield Judicial District Superior Court, referring to video footage of his supporters allegedly dropping stacks of absentee ballots into local ballot boxes.
Gomes filed the lawsuit following the Sept. 12 Democratic primary election, where Ganim beat Gomes by about 250 votes after absentee ballots were counted.
The two women accused of stuffing ballots – Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee Vice Chair Wanda Geter-Pataky and former City Council member Eneida Martinez – invoked their rights against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment while testifying last week after Gomes’ attorney Bill Bloss played the video clips.
But Ganim answered each of Bloss’ questions at the Tuesday hearing, maintaining that he was surprised by the footage of his supporters.
Ganim asserted that he never spoke to Geter-Pataky – whom he said volunteers on all DTC-endorsed campaigns, not just his – about handling ballots and never instructed his campaign staff to do so either.
In fact, Ganim said, he advises campaigners to never handle other voters’ ballots.
“We don’t touch someone’s ballot,” he said.
According to state election laws, absentee ballots may be only returned by the voter, a family member, a police officer, an election official or a caretaker. Ganim said when volunteers ask about submitting others’ absentee ballots, he orders them not to.
And while the mayor said his supporters are discouraged from violating the state law, he agreed that the woman in the video footage provided by Bridgeport police appears to be Geter-Pataky, who has since been placed on administrative leave by the city.
Bloss showed 12 video clips to Ganim of instances which appear to show Geter-Pataky either dropping in stacks of ballots herself or assisting others in submitting the ballots. In several clips, Geter-Pataky allegedly hands visitors stacks of envelopes from her reception desk and high-fives voters submitting ballots.
“It appears to be Wanda,” Ganim said of a clip in which Geter-Pataky seemingly escorts a man with a manilla folder to the 999 Broad St. ballot box, where he deposits a stack of envelopes.
Bloss also presented four clips of a woman he claims is Martinez dropping off stacks of ballots at the Boston Avenue ballot box. But Ganim, who has known Martinez since 2015, said he couldn’t tell if it was her in the footage.
Outside the courthouse after testifying, Ganim said he’s concerned by allegations of ballot fraud, but said it’s difficult to know when it occurs.
“There’s no way that anyone can know … unless they want to or are party to it,” he said.
Asked if he acknowledges that absentee ballot abuse occurred during the primary, Ganim instead pointed a finger at his opponent, claiming there’s also proof of Gomes supporters making repeat trips to ballot boxes.
In a video released earlier this month, an unidentified person wearing a Gomes campaign shirt visits the Boston Avenue ballot box numerous times to submit ballots. On Tuesday, Ganim said the footage calls Gomes’ claim of fraud into question.
“I wonder why or how someone would come into court and claim irregularities on a voter count on one campaign, when they’ve got their own campaign workers with their shirts on … and they’re making a claim of voter irregularity,” he said.
Throughout the hearings, Gomes and Bloss have maintained that their ultimate goal is for Judge William Clark to issue another primary election, but Ganim said he doubts his opponent will get his wish.
“Is there a mistake in the count of the vote? And if there is, does it have a serious impact on the outcome?” Ganim posed. “My sense is that that is not what you’re gonna see at the end of this case. But it’s up to the court to make that decision.”
While the November general election is fast approaching, Bloss has previously said that Clark can order a new primary after the general election. If a new primary is granted, there would then be another general election.
Clark told court attendees on Tuesday that evidentiary hearings would likely end this week and that he would issue his ruling next week.
The next hearing is scheduled for Thursday, where Bloss will finish his arguments. Counsel representing the defendants – Ganim, Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, Democratic Registrar of Voters Patricia Howard and Town Clerk Charles Clemons – will then make their case.