Gomes campaign video screenshot
This is a screengrab from a video posted to Facebook by an account called “John Gomes for Mayor,” alleging that multiple illegal absentee ballots were deposited into a ballot box. See the full video below. Credit: Screengrab / John Gomes for Mayor / John Gomes for Mayor

A Superior Court judge in Bridgeport overturned Wednesday the results of the city’s Democratic mayoral primary and ordered a new election based on evidence of absentee ballot fraud provided by challenger John Gomes, which he said put the results of the election in serious doubt. 

In a 37-page ruling, Judge William Clark ordered city election officials to meet within the next 10 days to decide a date for a new Democratic primary election, which will be held independent of next week’s general election.

The ruling is a victory for Gomes, a former city official, who challenged the results of his Sept. 12, 251-vote loss to incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim. Gomes’ complaint was based in part on surveillance videos apparently showing Ganim supporters depositing large numbers of absentee ballots in drop boxes, violating state rules on who may handle absentee ballots.

“The totality of the evidence presented is sufficient to demonstrate that a substantial number of ballots were handled improperly in violation of mandatory provisions of Connecticut law,” Clark wrote in Wednesday’s order. 

“Given the volume of votes at issue, the miscounting of those statutorily invalid votes leaves this court unable to determine the result of the primary,” the judge wrote later in the ruling.

Both Ganim and Gomes will appear on ballots during next week’s general election, potentially negating the need for another primary. Gomes is also running as a third party candidate on the Independent Party line. 

The court heard several days of testimony in the case in October. Two Ganim supporters who allegedly appeared to be depositing ballots in the surveillance videos — Wanda Geter-Pataky and Eneida Martinez — took the stand, as did Ganim. 

Gomes’ argument rests partly on state law, which generally requires that voters return their own absentee ballots aside from some limited exceptions that allow for people like family members, police or caregivers to return the ballots in certain cases.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the city argued that the plaintiffs had not provided evidence that put the outcome of the primary election in serious doubt and had failed to call a single voter to testify that their ballot did not reflect their vote. 

Clark rejected this argument in Wednesday’ ruling. He said the video evidence presented by plaintiffs had been “shocking to the court and should be shocking to all parties.” 

“[T]he parties have not cited, and the court has not located, any case involving the number of election law violations and the volume of supporting evidence that has been presented here,” the judge wrote.

In a statement Wednesday, Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said her office was pleased the judge had taken steps to protect the integrity of elections and would work with Bridgeport officials to determine a new primary date.

“We hope the city will ensure that all eligible voters are made aware of the new date to avoid disenfranchising any citizens,” Thomas said. “The Court’s finding that there was a ‘significant mishandling of ballots’ should be of great concern to all. Our office will continue to advocate for policies such as drop box surveillance, a Connecticut Election Court, and investment in voter education – all of which will strengthen our election system.”