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Connecticut Democrats eye election reform after fiasco in Bridgeport mayoral race, investigations

The Democratic secretary of the state proposed two election reform bills after a new election was ordered by a court because of alleged ballot harvesting.

Published: March 30, 2024 11:20pm

Democrats in Connecticut are pursuing election reform following a "redo" election for the Bridgeport mayoral race which has resulted in multiple investigations regarding ballot harvesting. 

Since the 2020 presidential election, former President Donald Trump and other Republicans have raised concerns about election irregularities and are often called “election deniers” by Democrats and the media. However, that label never seems to be applied to Democrats, despite many Democrats in Connecticut alleging election fraud occurred within their own party. 

The Bridgeport mayoral election that began last fall concluded in February with a win for the incumbent Democratic mayor, amid multiple election fraud complaints and investigations. 

A new mayoral election was ordered by a judge in November after a video was posted online that appeared to show a supporter of incumbent Democratic Mayor Joe Ganim stuffing stacks of papers into an absentee ballot drop box during the September Democratic mayoral primary election. 

Ballot harvesting is illegal in Connecticut, as only a designated family member, police officer, election official or caregiver can drop off voters' absentee ballots. 

The court order resulted from an election challenge filed by Ganim’s Democratic opponent, John Gomes, against the mayor over alleged absentee ballot abuse. Ganim acknowledged that campaign workers violated election laws but denied being aware of it at the time. 

The mayor also filed similar complaints with the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) against Gomes’ campaign. The SEEC is investigating dozens of complaints regarding the mayoral elections. 

Gomes' campaign told Just the News in February that in the trial on the September primary election, the mayor's legal team "withdrew their defense that the Gomes campaign committed misconduct, and did not raise it in any post-trial briefing."

Ganim won both the redo primary election in January against Gomes and the general election in February, in which Gomes ran as an independent candidate. In the final results for the February general election, Ganim received 6,366 votes, Gomes had 4,138, and Republican David Herz got 357. 

Earlier this month, Connecticut Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas (D) announced new referrals of alleged election malfeasance that her office sent to SEEC from the February general election. 

The referrals included: “Reports from voters who received absentee ballots despite not requesting them; A voter reported an individual arrived at his home to help him with his ballot, had him sign unknown paperwork, and took his ballot; A report of a campaign offering cash in return for completed absentee ballots; Suspicious activity at drop boxes discovered during review of footage from surveillance cameras.” 

“When alerted, the Secretary of the State’s Office is required to send allegations of election malfeasance to SEEC for their review and decision to investigate if any laws were broken,” Thomas said in a statement. “Referrals are not proof of wrongdoing, but an important step to ensure that our elections are secure.” 

Thomas’ office also has two election reform proposals advancing through the state legislature in an effort “to close loopholes observed by our election monitors.” 

One of the proposals is Senate Bill 441, which would create a 17-member board to address election administration issues that are beyond the jurisdictions of both the SEEC and the secretary’s office. The board would also be able to require training, implement best practices, and take over local elections if necessary. 

The bill, which will also give the SEEC 90 days to refer criminal cases to prosecutors, was proposed in part because SEEC investigations can take years. 

“We’ve got an individual who was accused, and ultimately referred for prosecution, for misconduct in an election more than four years ago," state Rep. Matt Blumenthal (D) said. “And it took more than three years for the State Elections Enforcement Commission to refer that individual for prosecution.” 

The other proposal is House Bill 5498, which includes multiple election security reforms, such as: requiring video surveillance of ballot drop boxes and retaining the footage; requiring the recording of how absentee ballots are received by town clerks; limiting the time period that absentee ballot applications can be used; requiring absentee ballots to be tracked by town clerks through the state’s centralized voter registration system; and limiting who can request replacement absentee ballots. 

State legislators held a hearing earlier this month regarding the bills, but Republicans said that the legislation isn’t enough to secure elections. 

“The board is good; it’s oversight. You know, I get it,” state Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco (R) said. “But I don’t see anything in here that’s going to deter them from doing it again.” 

State Sen. Rob Sampson (R) said, “I don’t think we’re addressing the problem at all. We keep making these steps to expand the authority and power of government, but we’re not going after the problem.” 

Connecticut Republicans are looking to ban ballot drop boxes and require a minimum sentence of one year in prison for election crimes. 

Many Bridgeport Democrats have also expressed their frustrations with the city party over ballot harvesting. 

Earlier this month, a panel of Connecticut Democratic Party members listened for two hours to Bridgeport residents bringing their complaints regarding the city’s Democratic Town Committee (DTC). 

One of the residents, Donna Curran, a former city councilwoman and DTC member, said that out of her and nine other candidates running for seats on the DTC, all but one lost to party-endorsed candidates, reported local TV station WSHU. She said ballot harvesting was the cause. 

“It's a district which has federally funded housing and people who have maybe more social and economic needs than others,” Curran said. “And they are either cajoled, bribed or threatened to request an absentee ballot, and then they're told how to vote.” 

Multiple residents called for an overhaul of the city party. 

Since Trump and other Republicans have raised concerns about election irregularities in the 2020 presidential election, they have frequently been labeled “election deniers.” Hillary Clinton herself has often declared Trump was an “illegitimate president” and suggested that “he knows that he stole the 2016 presidential election."

However, multiple Democrats sued over alleged election fraud last year and dozens of them have claimed election fraud and irregularities since at least the 2000 presidential election. 

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