BRIDGEPORT – Mayor Joe Ganim charged that a member of the John Gomes campaign had admitted breaking election law just days ahead of the Jan. 23 Democratic primary election.
In a Friday email to the Bridgeport town clerk, Ganim charged that Denise Solano, a campaign worker for John Gomes, violated state election law by distributing 1,400 absentee ballot applications ahead of the upcoming primary election. Two hours after Ganim sent the email, the Office of the Secretary of the State announced that on Tuesday, Jan. 16, it had referred the matter to the State Elections Enforcement Commission for investigation.
The Gomes campaign says that Solano did “nothing wrong.”
Ganim, whose campaign is under investigation by the SEEC after supporters were recorded stuffing ballots into an absentee box, said the city had launched an internal probe after the Gomes campaign posted a photo of former Police Chief Rebeca Garcia holding a pile of absentee ballot applications that she had not been authorized to distribute. Garcia is a Gomes volunteer and an unsuccessful candidate for City Council.
Ganim said his staff found that Solano checked out applications from the town clerk’s office on Dec. 28, and subsequently distributed them to 22 Gomes volunteers – including Garcia – without the office’s permission.
“As you know, the statute requires that anyone who circulates 5 or more absentee ballot applications ‘must’ be registered with the Town Clerk’s Office. As we understand it, Ms. Solano was informed of this rule by an elections monitor at the time she checked out the applications,” Ganim wrote.
Ganim further alleged that Solano – who previously ran alongside Garcia for City Council – admitted to violating election law in a Wednesday letter to Town Clerk Charlie Stallworth.
In her letter, which was obtained by CT Examiner on Friday, Solano said she had misinterpreted the instructions given to her by town clerk staff when she checked out the applications. While she initially thought she should return the list of distributors to Stallworth on the day before the primary, she said, she now knows that the campaign volunteers should have obtained the applications themselves.
Still, Ganim insists that the Gomes volunteers knew they were violating state law, urging Stallworth to secure the 1,400 applications for further investigation and “potential invalidation.”
According to a Dec. 29 email sent to the Ganim and Gomes campaigns by the Office of the Secretary of the State, anyone who distributes absentee ballot applications must include their name on an absentee ballot application distribution list, and must be registered with the town clerk prior to handing them out.
But Ganim said that on some of the applications, volunteers crossed out or redacted their own names and replaced them with Solano’s before submitting the documents. A copy of the distribution lists provided to CT Examiner by SEEC seemingly confirms the mayor’s claim.
“These actions by all parties involved were a flagrant violation and disregard of all legal advisements from the judge who ordered the new Primary, as well as the Secretary of the State and Town Clerk,” the Ganim campaign said in a Friday statement.
In a Friday email to CT Examiner, the Gomes campaign denied claims of wrongdoing, insisting that their volunteers provided their own names on the application.
“There is nothing wrong with distributing applications to anyone else, and the names and addresses of persons to whom the applications were given were provided to the town clerk as required,” the Gomes campaign said.
Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said on Friday that her office has issued another notice to the campaigns about the absentee ballot application requirements, and has also enlisted 14 volunteers to help election monitors watch over the Jan. 23 primary re-do.
SEEC spokesperson Joshua Foley confirmed on Friday that the commission received the referral, but said it has not yet determined if the matter requires an investigation. As of December, SEEC is already investigating more than 20 complaints related to the Sept. 12 primary.
Editor’s note: In an email to CT Examiner on Jan. 20, 2024, a spokesperson from the Office of the Secretary of the State clarified the date that the office referred the matter to the State Elections Enforcement Commission for investigation as Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024.