File photo of Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport

What separated the Democratic primary election overturned Wednesday by a Bridgeport Superior Court judge from previous elections in Connecticut’s largest city was not allegations of absentee ballot fraud, but rather physical evidence to prove it, Sen. Marilyn Moore said Thursday.

“All I can say is, finally, someone is looking at this seriously — the manipulation of absentee ballots in Bridgeport — and thank God for the cameras,” she said. 

Like the rest of Bridgeport, Moore, a Democrat, finds her city in “unprecedented waters” following Judge William Clark’s Wednesday ruling, which ordered the city to conduct a new primary election in a lawsuit brought by Democratic mayoral candidate John Gomes.

Gomes, a former city official, contended that supporters of incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim engaged in ballot harvesting, which helped tip the Sept. 12 primary election to a 251-vote Ganim victory. In court proceedings last month, Gomes’ lawyer, William Bloss, brought hours of videos apparently showing Ganim supporters stuffing drop boxes with multiple absentee ballots.

In a 37-page ruling, Clark called the video evidence “shocking to the court” and gave the parties 10 days to schedule a new Democratic primary to occur after the general election, which is still on track for Tuesday, Nov. 7.

In an interview Thursday, Moore praised Bloss’s thorough approach to trying the case, but said the cameras were crucial to the outcome. People needed physical and visual evidence of ballot harvesting before they would take seriously allegations of ballot fraud in Bridgeport, Moore said.

And she should know. In 2019, Moore sought the Democratic nomination to run for mayor and found herself in a situation similar to that of Gomes. She led Ganim among in-person voters until absentee ballots were counted and handed the nomination to the incumbent mayor.

“There is a real strong operation of how they win elections and it was in place in 2019 and I do feel cheated,” Moore said. “Not only do I feel cheated, but I think about what could have happened over the four years.”

At issue in the case is a state law that 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.

Moore chalks much of the operation up to Wanda Geter-Pataky, a city employee who Gomes contends appears in the surveillance videos making multiple deposits in drop boxes. 

Geter-Pataky took the stand in court hearings in the case last month. She declined to answer questions, taking the Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination, according to the CT Mirror

However, the problem, as Moore sees it, is not limited to just Geter-Pataky but also involves the town committee and a machine for turning out votes that has existed in Bridgeport for decades. 

“I’m hoping that this [court decision] is the turnaround that Bridgeport needs to bring back integrity to voting because it’s a Bridgeport problem,” Moore said. “I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the state that has this much disregard for the vote.”

Bloss made similar comments during a Thursday press conference on Gomes’ next steps. Gomes’ name will appear on the Independent Party ballot line next week, and if he manages to win the general election, Bloss said his team will withdraw its complaint. 

Like Moore, Bloss, who has decades of experience in election law, described the current situation as a uniquely Bridgeport problem. 

“I’ve been doing this for quite awhile. This is a problem in Connecticut nowhere but Bridgeport,” Bloss said. “There is a tolerance of misconduct on an unprecedented scale in Bridgeport and I would like to think that Judge Clark’s decision is going to change the dynamic on that a little bit.”

The case has attracted attention including some from outside of Connecticut and has been used as evidence that the state’s absentee ballot system is vulnerable to fraud. In September, Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to pass a proposal to discontinue the use of dropboxes in Connecticut. 

“These videos confirm our fears about how absentee ballots can be misused,” Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said Wednesday. “Now the court has spoken. What we need now is trust, faith and confidence in our electoral system.”

Meanwhile, in a Wednesday appearance on WNPR’s The Wheelhouse, Ganim told host Frankie Graziano that the video evidence existed because of his administration’s efforts to ensure city drop boxes were located in places where surveillance cameras could record activity around them. The mayor also pointed to separate videos, which he said depicted Gomes supporters making multiple deposits in the boxes. 

Asked by Graziano about proposals to discontinue use of ballot dropboxes, Ganim said he already met with his staff to discuss the idea and was told he did not have the authority to remove them. 

“Let’s get the damn boxes out of there if they’re the problem here,” Ganim told Graziano.

Throughout the interview, Ganim sought to center the conversation on the coming general election and leave the new primary order to the courts. 

“The only thing we know for sure is …there’s an election on Tuesday, Nov. 7. The polls open from 6 [a.m.] to 8 p.m.,” Ganim said. “I’m the endorsed Democratic candidate and will be on the top line with the other Democrats. What happens after that is going to be up to the courts.”

Moore, meanwhile, was equally unsure of what the future held for Bridgeport on Tuesday and beyond. 

“I don’t know how people feel about going to the polls,” Moore said. “I know how they feel about politicians on a good day, I don’t know how they feel about politicians with all of this stuff we’re going through in Bridgeport. I don’t think anybody can call this one. We’re in unprecedented waters here and everything is just a big guess.”