The State Elections Enforcement Commission this morning unanimously agreed to launch investigations into two complaints involving Bridgeport’s democratic primary.
The commission also approved issuing a subpoena to the city “for all relative documents” connected to absentee ballots.
“These allegations have the impact of undermining the public’s trust in free and fair elections and we take them very seriously,” commission chairman Stephen Penny said, adding the commission heard concerns over Bridgeport’s process even before the votes.
The commission voted to take the action after discussing the issue during executive session.
Democratic candidate John Gomes has alleged wrongdoing in the Sept. 12 primary, which Democratic Mayor Joe Ganim won by 251 votes. His margin of victory was decided by absentee ballots.
Gomes filed a lawsuit Tuesday asking a judge to either declare him the winner or order a new election because of allegations of absentee ballot fraud.
SEEC staff attorney William Smith said the agency received two referrals from Bridgeport police, once stemming from a Sept. 8th incident, four days before primary, at the Fireside Apartments in Bridgeport.
He said the complaint raised concerns about the use and distribution of absentee ballot applications and actual ballots, but did not provide additional details.
The second referral came on Sept. 14 after video surfaced that, according to Gomes’ campaign, shows a city employee and Ganim supporter placing several absentee ballots into a drop box early on the morning of Sept. 12.
Smith said police provided a video, as well as other details, as part of their complaint about the drop box outside the City Hall Annex.
SEEC also agreed to issue a subpoena for a range of records and documents, including any lists for prospective absentee ballot applicants and distribution lists for applications. The agency is also seeking returned applications and absentee ballots, including both the inner and outer envelopes required for security. Towns are supposed to preserve both envelopes.
The commission voted to investigate both possible absentee ballot fraud and “other potential illegal conduct.”
Penny said SEEC will work with other law enforcement and regulatory agencies who are also investigating the primary.
“It is of paramount importance to this commission that Connecticut’s elections and primaries are conducted freely and fairly, and we are committed to working diligently to ensure that is the case,” he said.
Republican lawmakers have said the allegations demonstrate the need for changes to Connecticut’s election system, including an end to the absentee ballot drop box. They’ve said the issue should be included in an upcoming special election to vote on Gov. Ned Lamont’s nominee for the state Supreme Court.
Democrats, including Lamont and Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, have voiced alarm at the evidence and called for a thorough investigations, but have not voiced support for similar measures.
Thomas has said the Bridgeport incident is about “a few bad actors and an undereducated electorate” and not a “broken election system,” while Lamont suggested waiting for the investigations before deciding on action