Group Invokes Obscure Law to Pursue Arrests in Bridgeport Election Fraud Case

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BRIDGEPORT — A group seeking to compel the arrests of two Bridgeport women accused of election fraud is taking its case to the Connecticut Supreme Court, citing a seldom-used 1953 law. 

Under state statute 9-368, any three voters in a town who believe an election law violation can be proved may file a written complaint, and a Superior Court judge shall issue an arrest warrant for the accused person. 

But when three Bridgeport residents tried in November to obtain arrest warrants for Democratic Town Committee Vice Chair Wanda Geter-Pataky and Councilwoman Eneida Martinez — supporters of Mayor Joe Ganim who were caught on camera depositing stacks of absentee ballots into drop boxes ahead of the city’s September Democratic primary election — using the little-known law, they were denied.

On Tuesday, however, the state Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of the judge’s denial, setting in motion a debate over the merits of the law and potential arrests.

In his November ruling, Fairfield Judicial District Superior Court Judge Thomas Welch denied the complaints signed by residents Albert Bottone, Alison Scofield and Diahann Phillips, arguing the state law itself is “deficient.”

According to Welch, the statute compels the issuance of an arrest warrant based on a standard of “less than probable cause,” which violates the Fourth Amendment. He also wrote that the statute wrongfully allows a judge to issue a warrant without coordination with the Division of Criminal Justice, which is statutorily in charge of the prosecution of all criminal matters.

While Connecticut election law attorneys had varying opinions on Welch’s decision, they largely had never heard of statute 9-368 and expressed concern about the consequences of the upcoming court case.

A valid ruling?

Bill Bloss, an attorney with Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder who represented Bridgeport mayoral candidate John Gomes in his 2023 election fraud lawsuit, told CT Examiner on Thursday that Welch did the best he could with a law he had never seen before. 

Regardless of the statute’s prominence or quality, however, Bloss said existing law should be followed until it is revoked or revised.

“To call it an unusual situation is to understate the circumstances,” he said. “This may be a profoundly silly statute, but it is a statute.”

As for Welch’s scrutiny of the law’s probable cause standards, Bloss said the issue boils down to interpretation. In his opinion, he said, the surveillance footage of Geter-Pataky and Martinez at the ballot boxes would qualify as probable cause under federal law.

But Jonathan Shapiro, an attorney with Aeton Law Partners who represented political nonprofit Bridgeport Generation Now Votes in its attempted challenge to the 2019 Bridgeport Democratic primary, believes Welch’s constitutional concerns were legitimate, as the statute makes no reference to the Fourth Amendment’s standard for probable cause.

Also unfamiliar with the 1953 law, Shapiro told CT Examiner he’d be concerned if the State Supreme Court rules that the law is sufficient, as there are few guardrails stopping campaigns and political parties from abusing it.

“In this political environment, I would be concerned with a statute this general without more bones or more meat around it,” Shapiro said. “What’s entailed in the process of a statute like this?”

Bloss similarly said he worries about the consequences for courts if Welch’s decision is overturned. To avoid a “flurry” of warrant requests, he said the state Legislature should create penalties for those who submit false claims.

Bloss pointed to the potential benefits of the law as well, particularly for Bridgeport residents looking to expedite complaints and avoid recurring election law violations.

“There have not been meaningful consequences to people who, we all saw with our eyes, were involved in ballot harvesting against the law,” he said. “And by at least one of the same people that was the subject of complaints in 2019.”

Before the latest allegations, Geter-Pataky and two others were accused of illegally gathering and submitting absentee ballots for the 2019 Bridgeport mayoral race. An investigation by the State Elections Enforcement Commission took about four years to complete, and a criminal investigation by the Chief State’s Attorney is still underway.

Beyond Bridgeport

Linda Szynkowicz, the founder of Fight Voter Fraud, a political nonprofit behind the original complaints to state Superior Court seemingly affirmed one of Bloss’s fears on Thursday — the group has submitted 206 warrant requests across Connecticut, she said, and has more complaints “ready to go.”

“We’re gonna wait and see what the court says,” she said. “But based on the law on the books, we are able to use that law, and that’s what my attorney is going to be arguing.”

According to ​​Szynkowicz, Fight Voter Fraud works to investigate election fraud allegations in nine states. After seeing the footage of Geter-Pataky and Martinez, she said the group researched Connecticut law, found statute 9-368 and got three Bridgeport voters to sign off on the warrant requests.

At the same time, ​​Szynkowicz said she contacted voters in other municipalities and sent over 200 other arrest warrants for alleged election law violations in Madison, Guilford, New Haven, Milford, Middletown and Haddam. 

If the state Supreme Court overturns Welch’s denial and issues warrants for Geter-Pataky and Martinez, ​​Szynkowicz said it will open the door for the outstanding requests and the more than 11,000 additional complaints the organization has prepared. According to a January news release, the group claims to have uncovered election law violations such as “potential double voters” in every Connecticut municipality.

“We have the evidence. We’re not law enforcement, but we needed a vehicle to move this stuff forward,” she said.

In a Wednesday statement, however, Attorney General William Tong, who is representing the state in the appeals case, doubted that Fight Voter Fraud could win.

“Connecticut believes in the rule of law — not vigilante justice. We are handling this case jointly with the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office and are confident we will prevail before the Supreme Court,” he said.