BRIDGEPORT — Despite efforts to ease voter concerns regarding alleged election lawbreaking, both Mayor Joe Ganim and challenger John Gomes witnessed particularly low turnout during Tuesday’s Democratic primary redo.
For the third time in five months, voters slowly trickled into their polling places to cast ballots for the mayoral race. But according to the candidates, a general skepticism toward city elections may have impacted turnout for the new primary.
“It’s low. People need to come out and vote,” Ganim said outside of Central High School.
“It’s low, which is expected. Hopefully a large percentage — 90 percent, if not higher — is ours,” Gomes said at John Winthrop Elementary School.
Inside the polling places, election volunteers reported the same experience. By 1 p.m., about 230 residents had voted at Central Middle School. By 2 p.m., volunteers at the Black Rock School reported about 330 votes.
While a count of in-person votes will not occur until the polls close at 8 p.m., the Town Clerk’s Office reported around 4 p.m. that it received 1,980 of the 2,749 disseminated absentee ballots — the center of recent controversy.
Ganim and Gomes have traded accusations of election law violations over several months. Following the original Sept. 12 primary election, which named Ganim the winner by 250 votes, Gomes sued city and state election officials alleging absentee ballot fraud. Upon receiving “shocking” city security camera footage of two Ganim supporters seemingly stuffing city dropboxes with stacks of absentee ballots, Judge William Clark sided with Gomes and ordered a new primary.
Just days before the Tuesday primary, Ganim claimed that Gomes campaign volunteers unlawfully distributed 1,400 absentee ballots applications. The mayor’s claims later sparked a petition by Town Clerk Charlie Stallworth to Clark to discount the 1,400 ballots in question, which Clark denied on Monday.
Asked if voters should be concerned about the integrity of the new primary, Ganim cautiously backed efforts by the city and the secretary of the state to oversee the election.
“Our campaign has the same concerns,” Ganim told CT Examiner. “Every provision that could possibly be taken to ensure that every vote counts needs to be taken, and I hope the secretary of the state is doing that. And I have every reason to believe that they are.”
Ahead of the primary, Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas appointed two election monitors to train city election staff and report any issues to the state office. Thomas delegated 14 volunteers with legal experience to serve as election watchdogs during Tuesday’s in-person voting.
Earlier this month, Thomas also encouraged Bridgeport residents to vote in person instead of by absentee ballot. In a Jan. 8 email, Thomas’ office said there has been a long history of absentee ballot fraud allegations in the city, and that in-person voting is one way to avoid “intimidation” by campaign workers.
On Tuesday, Gomes urged the same. While he denied any allegations of wrongdoing by his campaign, he encouraged hesitant residents to cast their ballots at the polls.
“It’s going to count if you show up,” he said. “We cannot give up hope.”
During a 10 a.m. update at Wilbur Cross School, Thomas said the primary was going well, aside from two brief tabulator malfunctions. She acknowledged ongoing voter concerns about election security and reiterated her earlier call to vote in person, while encouraging residents to report issues to her staff.
“To the voters of Bridgeport, I’d like to say that I’ve heard their concerns,” Thomas said. “There are many of us trying to make sure that the processes are in place to ensure that their votes count, and that they are cast free of any interference. Change may not happen overnight, but we’re here with you.”