A ballot dropbox outside Stafford Town Hall
A ballot drop box outside town offices in Stafford Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut officials reacted Monday to allegations of fraud in last week’s Democratic primary election in Bridgeport, where challenger John Gomes announced plans to seek a court injunction to halt certification of his apparent loss to incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim. 

Gomes has cast doubt on the integrity of the city’s election, which according to unofficial results posted to the Secretary of the State’s website, he lost to Ganim by 251 votes. On Monday, he held a press conference and detailed plans to file a complaint asking a court to order a new primary election. 

“Right now there’s a black cloud over Bridgeport,” Gomes told reporters during the event streamed on Facebook. “There’s no trust. We walk around and I don’t know what to tell the people.” 

Over the weekend, his campaign released surveillance videos apparently showing a Ganim supporter making several trips to deposit absentee ballots in a city drop box. State law generally requires that voters return ballots themselves but allows for a few exceptions like family members of students or caretakers who are permitted to return ballots for voters who are sick or disabled.  

“Absentee ballots continue to cast doubt on the integrity of Bridgeport elections,” Gomes said in a press release. “Critical evidence has emerged in the days following the Primary including video showing vote fraud and several complaints have been filed with the State Election Enforcement Commission.”

Ganim condemned any action to undermine the integrity of the election in a press release Monday, when he said the city police department was actively investigating the matter. 

However, the allegations drew the attention of state officials including elections chief Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas who held a virtual press conference Monday evening, when she urged the State Elections Enforcement Commission to quickly investigate multiple complaints by the Gomes campaign. 

Thomas reaffirmed her confidence in Connecticut’s overall election security and stressed the importance of civic education among the state’s voters. 

“This situation is not about partisan politics, it’s not about a broken electoral system. This isn’t even about absentee ballot systems,” Thomas said. “It’s about a few bad actors and an undereducated electorate.” 

Thomas said her office had been underfunded for decades and received no funding for public education and outreach.

“I can not stress enough that the best antidote for election impropriety and misinformation is an informed electorate,” she said. 

At an unrelated event earlier Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont told reporters that he had viewed the videos circulated by the Gomes campaign and found them disturbing. However, Lamont urged residents to resist jumping to conclusions. 

“I really want to thoroughly investigate this,” Lamont said. “The integrity of our electoral system is so important. I gotta make sure that people have confidence and I want to investigate it, want to investigate it soon. We have an election coming up.”

Meanwhile, legislative leaders of both Republican caucuses of the General Assembly issued statements calling on state Democrats to address election security during a special legislative session scheduled to begin this week. 

“We must restore confidence and integrity in our election process,” Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said. “That’s why we call on the majority and the governor to join us. We must act to fix what is broken immediately, and we have a special session next week to do it before November’s election.”

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora agreed, saying the state should suspend use of ballot drop boxes until the investigation into the incident is complete. Candelora said Democrats had routinely dismissed concerns about the integrity of absentee ballot voting. 

“Now, what’s alleged to have happened in Bridgeport ahead of the mayoral primary can’t be ignored—it’s right in the Democrat party’s lap, and it poses a direct threat to the public’s fragile confidence in our state’s voting process,” Candelora said.