Bridgeport getting state elections monitor after ballot box video
Bridgeport’s ballot box scandal was front and center at the Connecticut state Capitol on Tuesday. Lawmakers re-appointed a state monitor to oversee the city’s elections until the end of 2024, but Republicans said the move will do little to stop ballot abuse.
Tuesday was supposed to be an uneventful special session, to move Connecticut’s presidential primary date and approve a state Supreme Court nominee. But that all changed last week, when a video surfaced showing a woman stuffing an absentee ballot drop box outside the Bridgeport government center. The city’s Democratic primary is now the focus of a lawsuit – just like it was in 2019.
State lawmakers moved quickly to re-appoint an elections monitor in Bridgeport, before November’s general election.
“They can demand to see, at any point, any record, any facility, any system,” said state Rep. Matt Blumenthal (D-Stamford), co-chair of the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee.
On News 12’s “Connecticut Power and Politics” this weekend, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said he welcomes the added scrutiny.
“Bring it on,” Ganim told host Eric Landskroner. “It's important that, looking forward, that we do and we ask – as I had yesterday – for state officials to have supervised ballots going forward.”
Bridgeport had a state monitor in 2021 and 2022. But this year, an accounting error in the new state budget left the position unfilled.
Critics said an elections monitor isn't enough. GOP lawmakers unsuccessfully pushed to remove the city’s – and the rest of the state’s – outdoor ballot boxes.
“We need to take a look at what has happened in Bridgeport and restore confidence in our elections,” said state Rep. Vin Candelora (R-North Branford), the Connecticut House Republican leader.
Democrats argued the boxes already have security cameras and that removing them would make it harder for the state’s poorest residents to vote.
“Do you take a wrecking ball approach and ban everything for everybody else?” asked House Speaker Matt Ritter (D-Hartford). “Or do you try to use a – more of a scalpel approach?”
The Senate’s top Republican said the issue can’t wait until the next regular session in February.
“We're going to be precise,” said state Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford). “This is not taking a wrecking ball to anything.”
Also shot down Tuesday was a GOP amendment requiring a 1-year prison sentence for election crimes. Democratic leaders said they're open to the idea next year.
“I think that's another conversation we can have,” said state Rep. Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford), the House Majority Leader. “I don't know that we should have it without the benefit of a public hearing.”
Election reform groups also want to ban political campaigns from handing out absentee ballot applications.
“Restrict political operatives and campaigns and candidates from accessing absentee ballots. Period – end of story,” said Gemeem Davis, president of Bridgeport Generation Now, an election reform group that endorsed Ganim’s last opponent. “We have heard stories about people saying that they would lose their public housing. We've heard stories from seniors who say that people come to them and promise them groceries.”
PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES AND NEW SUPREME COURT JUDGE
Also on Tuesday, the General Assembly moved Connecticut's presidential primaries up from the last Tuesday in April to the first Tuesday. Since that’s the same day as New York and Pennsylvania, Connecticut could have a lot more influence on the nominating process.
The 2024 primary will also be the first time Connecticut voters can head to the polls early. Since Primary Day (April 2) is two days after Easter, early voting will begin the previous Tuesday (March 26).
Lawmakers also overwhelmingly confirmed Nora Dannehy to the Connecticut Supreme Court. Dannehy made national headlines when she quit the U.S. Department of Justice’s Trump-Russia probe. During her confirmation hearing last Wednesday, Dannehy accused former Attorney General William Barr of political meddling.