Mayor denies discussing absentee ballots with campaign volunteer at center of ballot stuffing claims

Oct 17, 2023, 11:56 AM

The mayor of Connecticut’s largest city denied under oath Tuesday ever discussing absentee ballots with a campaign volunteer who resembles a woman seen on surveillance video stuffing papers into a drop box multiple times ahead of the mayoral primary.

In a court hearing, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim tried to distance himself from Wanda Geter-Pataky, a local Democratic official and supporter who has been accused by Ganim’s opponent of absentee ballot fraud in connection with Ganim’s narrow victory in September’s primary. Geter-Pataky last week refused to say whether she was the woman seen on surveillance footage making multiple trips to an election drop box and stuffing papers inside that looked like ballots.

Ganim also testified he did not talk to Geter-Pataky about handling absentee ballots differently after state elections officials investigating allegations of absentee ballot fraud in Ganim’s 2019 primary referred her and two others with ties to his campaign to state prosecutors.

“I had no discussions with her,” said Ganim, a Democrat. He also testified he did not ask his paid campaign staff to instruct Geter-Pataky, the vice chair of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee, to do anything differently.

Ganim won the Sept. 12 mayoral primary by 251 votes out of 8,173 cast, with absentee ballots giving him his margin of victory, as in 2019. The results are being challenged by his opponent John Gomes, who is seeking a new primary or to be declared the winner.

Ganim said in court that he was “shocked by what appeared in the videos” released by Gomes’ campaign shortly after the primary. However, he said he does not know if Geter-Patakay actually mishandled ballots. The State Elections Enforcement Commission is investigating this latest primary after receiving multiple complaints.

Ganim, who was convicted of corruption during a first stint as mayor but won his old job back in an election after his release from prison, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of wrongdoing related to ballots and has raised concerns about other videos which he says show Gomes’ campaign workers dropping in multiple pieces of paper resembling ballots.

Under Connecticut law, people using a collection box to vote by absentee ballot must drop off their completed ballots themselves, or designate certain family members, police, local election officials or a caregiver to do it for them.

Gomes, who has said his campaign workers followed state law, is asking a judge to order a new primary. He said multiple videos prove there was absentee ballot fraud during the Sept. 12 primary. No matter the judge’s ruling, Gomes will still appear on the November ballot as an independent candidate.

News of the Bridgeport videos has spread through right-wing social media platforms and on far-right media, connecting the controversy to the 2020 stolen election claims.

Last week, Geter-Patakay, who is currently suspended from her job as a greeter at the city hall annex, invoked her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination multiple times rather than answer questions in court about allegations of illegal ballot box stuffing, including whether she was the woman seen on surveillance footage.

“She is invoking her Fifth Amendment privilege,” her lawyer, John Gulash, told the court.

City Council member and current candidate Eneida Martinez also declined last week to answer whether she appeared in an additional batch of videos Gomes’ lawyer William Bloss showed in court of a woman and other people depositing multiple pieces of paper that resemble absentee ballots into a drop box.

Bloss said there were 1,253 absentee ballots cast in the Sept. 12 primary but he and his staff identified 428 individuals “at most” who deposited ballots in the drop boxes after review hours of surveillance video. Some of the videos showed workers visiting the boxes to pick up ballots but found there were none.

Ganim noted it was his office that had worked to ensure the absentee ballot drop boxes — originally allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic — were located in view of city-owned surveillance cameras for security purposes. He told reporters outside the courthouse that he has since implemented more “stringent measures” on absentee ballot voting in light of the videos, but insisted absentee ballots are important in a city with a large elderly and disabled population.

“I want to ensure everyone has their vote and their vote counts,” he said.

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Mayor denies discussing absentee ballots with campaign volunteer at center of ballot stuffing claims