Bridgeport voter turnout down amid ballot scandal
Bridgeport’s ballot box scandal is leaving next week's election in limbo. And so far, many voters are sitting the race out.
“AM I GOING TO VOTE?”
In Connecticut’s biggest city, people have a tough choice. Should they vote in an election that might not even matter?
“Am I going to vote? Yes,” said Joyce Marie Elliott Tate, of Bridgeport. “I’ll still vote because I have the right.”
Bridgeport's mayoral primary was marred by ballot box stuffing – all caught on camera. Calling the footage “shocking,” a judge tossed out the primary results on Wednesday, accusing Ganim’s supporters of “ballot harvesting.”
Next week’s general election is still on – the judge has no authority to postpone it – but the results might be meaningless.
“It will matter,” said Angel Villafaine, of Bridgeport. “To me it will matter because I can go home and sleep at night saying, ‘At least I voted.’”
TURNOUT DOWN DRAMATICALLY
Villfaine may be casting a ballot, but many Bridgeport voters are staying away.
Compared to this point in the September primary, turnout is down by almost 1,799 voters, according to figures from the Connecticut Secretary of the State.
Despite the chaos, the candidates are urging people to vote anyway.
“We all want fair elections,” Ganim said Thursday. “The best way to do that – the best way to make your statement – is to come out and be a part of it. Cast your ballot.”
Ganim’s chief rival, John Gomes, echoed that statement. Both candidates will appear on Tuesday’s ballot. Ganim is listed as the Democratic candidate, while Gomes appears on the Independent Party line.
“We are focused on November 7th,” said Gomes. “And if we come out as the voters of Bridgeport, and cast our vote, we will stand here again victorious.”
Also on the ballot are Republican David Herz and petitioning candidate Lamond Daniels. All four met for their only debate Thursday night.
WILL THE ELECTION MATTER?
Will next Tuesday's election matter? That could depend on who wins.
If Gomes pulls off an upset victory, his attorney believes a new primary won’t be necessary.
“If John Gomes wins on the Independent Party line, the case is over,” said attorney Bill Bloss. “We’ll withdraw the complaint, and that's the end of it. There's no new primary; there will be no new general election.”
But ultimately, that may be up to the Connecticut Supreme Court. In a 2019 ruling – also involving Bridgeport – the court said, “A valid general election could not be held without first holding a valid primary election to select the candidates.”
WILL ELECTION BE FAIR?
Beyond the legal confusion, the biggest challenge may be keeping voters’ trust.
“Everything is fixed,” said Villafaine.
An interim election monitor is now in place for Bridgeport. Peggy Reeves – a former state election director, Wilton voter registrar and Democratic lawmaker – is overseeing how the town clerk processes absentee ballots, and accompanying campaign volunteers when they pass out ballot applications at housing complexes. However, much of that activity already happened before Reeves started work on Tuesday.
“For any of the supervised absentee balloting that has been requested, she has been going with them during that time,” said Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas.
But Thomas said her office is not monitoring real-time ballot box surveillance cameras – yet.
“They don't have time to sit and watch hours and hours of footage, so I am working with our legal staff to see if there is an opportunity for us to hire additional people,” she said.
Thomas said the search continues for a permanent monitor, who would oversee elections in Bridgeport through the end of 2024.
Some Bridgeport residents said they’re not discouraged. When asked why he still wants to vote, Villafaine replied, “Because we still have a right.
Another possible scenario: The state Supreme Court could reverse Judge William Clark’s ruling, meaning Tuesday’s results would be the final say. As of Friday evening, no appeal had been filed yet.