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State Sen. Marilyn Moore and incumbent Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim (ctnewsjunkie photos)

Local felon Joe Ganim, mayor of Bridgeport, would really like everyone to stop talking about absentee ballots. When a New York Times reporter tried to press him on the issue last week, he shouted “I’m done with this,” then hopped in a car to speed away somewhere else.

Unfortunately for him, this issue isn’t going away.

If you missed it, here’s the situation: Ganim narrowly lost the September Democratic primary on the actual voting machines to state Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, in the most shocking upset of the night. However, a suspiciously overwhelming advantage for Ganim among absentee ballots more than made up the difference, and he won the election.

This shined a very harsh light on the Bridgeport absentee ballot operation, which the city’s Democratic machine uses to stay in power. Based on Hearst Connecticut Media’s reporting, here’s how it works: various people affiliated with or hired by the campaigns will go around to elderly housing complexes to distribute absentee ballots. Sometimes, they will “assist” voters in filling them out, or pressure them to vote a certain way —  which is illegal. This is something opponents of the Democratic establishment have complained about for a long time, but up until now it hasn’t even been thoroughly investigated or proven.

Following the disputed primary, reporters with Hearst Connecticut Media started turning over rocks to expose the worms beneath. They found residents who felt pressured to vote for Ganim, dozens of discrepancies between the voter records and the ballots, voters who received ballots who didn’t remember requesting them, and more. The State Elections Enforcement Commission also has opened an investigation.

What nobody knows is whether these questionable or illegal votes are what made the difference between Moore and Ganim. It may be impossible to ever really know. But there is enough evidence of impropriety here to make the case for a re-run of the primary. We’ll see if a judge agrees with that, as attorneys for Bridgeport Generation Now — a voter advocacy group — have sued the city on behalf of three voters who want a new election.

No matter how it turns out, this case is a strong incentive for the legislature to thoroughly re-evaluate how absentee ballots are handled. This sort of underhanded scam erodes public trust in democracy and ensures that the worst people stay in power. It has to end.

Easier said than done, of course.

The beauty of this sort of scheme is that it has deniability baked into it, and any insinuation otherwise can be chalked up to hearsay or error on the part of the voters themselves. After all, how can investigators really know what happened between a campaign worker and a senior citizen in the privacy of their own apartment? It’s perfectly legal to check out absentee ballots and bring them to those who request them, after all.

There are two ways to get at this problem, one immediate and the other more long-term.

The immediate fixes should be pretty obvious. First, there should be another primary election. This one has been so tainted that another vote really is necessary to uphold the legitimacy of the democratic process in the city, and to ensure that the person who will serve as mayor for the next four years has a mandate clear of fraud.

There should also be serious consequences for those who are found to have broken the law. That includes jail time, fines, and whatever other remedies the law may provide. Nobody’s really been enforcing the law around absentee ballots. That has to change. And if it turns out the mayor knew anything about this, back to jail he should go.

The long-term fixes are trickier. It’s possible that changing the constitution to allow no-excuse absentee ballots would make things a bit better — or it may make them worse. Better accessible voting options for the disabled and infirm have to become a priority. Polling places must be wheelchair accessible, and cities and towns must invest in transportation for the disabled. Other states have services like curbside voting, where a voting machine can be brought to someone in a car. Any and all reforms must ensure the right to a secure, secret ballot.

The line must be drawn here. In a world where democracy is under attack, any attempt to subvert the will of the voters must be taken seriously. Bridgeport: it’s time to change.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.