BRIDGEPORT — The Office of the Secretary of the State encouraged residents to vote at the polls rather than by absentee ballot in the upcoming Democratic mayoral primary redo, pointing to decades of election fraud allegations in the city.
In a Monday news release, Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said she has worked to increase state presence at City Hall in anticipation for the new Jan. 23 primary, but said the two officials assigned to monitor Bridgeport elections “cannot do it all.” She instead urged voters to head to their polling stations.
“We encourage anyone who can do so to vote in person on January 23rd. If someone voted by absentee ballot, but is unsure if they should have done so, they may withdraw their absentee ballot by going in-person to the Town Clerk’s office before 10 a.m. on Election Day, and they may then vote at their assigned polling place,” Thomas advised.
The state legislature voted to appoint an election monitor for the municipal election in 2023 and state election in 2024, but the monitors’ roles expanded after Judge William Clark ruled to overturn the Sept. 12 Democratic primary in November. In his decision, Clark pointed to evidence of absentee ballot fraud brought forward by candidate John Gomes, who initiated the civil lawsuit after losing to Mayor Joe Ganim in the primary by 250 votes.
Since absentee ballot applications for the new primary became available on Dec. 29, Thomas said the two interim election monitors — Tim De Carlo and Peggy Reeves — have established a daily presence in the Town Clerk’s office, created another supervised absentee ballot location for seniors, provided training to city election staff and met with community organizations to explain the election process.
Director of Communications Tara Chozet said Monday that, in addition to “feedback” received from De Carlo, Reeves and Town Clerk staff following the Nov. 7 election, Thomas based many of the recent changes on the long history of absentee ballot fraud allegations in Bridgeport.
“The allegations of absentee ballot fraud in this city go back decades, and because of that, it’s important for Bridgeport voters to know that in-person voting is just one of the many tools they can use to counter the problems that Judge Clark’s order seeks to address,” Chozet told CT Examiner.
Chozet also said voters have previously alleged that they felt “intimidated” by campaign workers who assisted them with their ballots.
Along with the combined 21 complaints related to the Sept. 12 primary under investigation by the State Elections Enforcement Commission, the agency also looked into similar allegations regarding the 2019 mayoral election. This summer, the commission referred the 2019 case to the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney for potential criminal charges.
During the lawsuit proceedings and on social media, members of the Ganim and Gomes campaigns accused the other of intimidating voters, particularly senior residents.
Gomes’ counsel claimed in court that video footage of Ganim supporters seemingly placing stacks of absentee ballots in city drop boxes proves election fraud. Meanwhile, Ganim supporter and City Council member Eneida Martinez — who was accused of stuffing ballots — alleged that Councilmember Maria Pereira had searched through mail to find absentee ballots at a senior housing complex.
Under state election law, absentee ballots may be only returned by the ballot applicant, a family member, a police officer, an election official or a caretaker.
Chozet said Thomas hopes the option to withdraw absentee ballots and a new supervised absentee ballot site at a senior facility will alleviate some of the ongoing concerns.
“By sharing this information, Secretary Thomas hopes to provide those voters another avenue to cast their ballot, free of intimidation,” she said.
Asked if Thomas’ office had received reports of potential absentee ballot fraud since making absentee ballot applications available in December, Chozet said no “specific issues” had been reported.
This story has been updated to clarify comments regarding a new supervised absentee ballot site