By: Kalia Desaix
Incumbent Bridgeport mayor, Joe Ganim, recently won the Democratic mayoral primary over State Senator Marilyn Moore through his widespread success with absentee voters. While it is not unusual for an incumbent candidate to win the primary, it is unusual for a candidate to win based on absentee ballots. Although Ganim’s campaign’s focus on absentee ballot eligible voters has raised some eyebrows, he insists that this has simply been a noble effort to make absentee ballots more available to those eligible.
When the votes from the polls were initially counted, Moore had won the election over Ganim by 4,721 to 4,337. Despite this margin, the absentee ballots gave Ganim 967 additional votes and gave Moore only an additional 313 votes. A lawsuit was filed in response to seventeen different examples of voters being persuaded to vote for Ganim.
In the past, Mayor Ganim found himself in a bit of trouble for his rather loose interpretation of federal law. After serving as mayor of Bridgeport from 1991 to 2003, he was sentenced to nine years in federal prison for his involvement in a kickback scheme with developers. Ganim was released after seven years in prison and returned to Bridgeport. Five years later, Ganim was, once again, the mayor of Bridgeport. His history with the law has contributed to public concern over his recent, surprising campaign success.
Lydia Martinez, City Clerk and former City Councilwoman, has been singled out for her alleged involvement in the absentee ballot concerns. Martinez was first fined for involvement in a similar absentee ballot scam eight years ago. In the current case, it is alleged that Martinez arrived, unsolicited, to the homes of several absentee ballot eligible voters. Martinez allegedly then either offered to fill out the ballot for the individual or pressured the individual to vote for Ganim. Martinez denies any involvement in such a scheme. Gamin denies knowledge of the scheme, and brought to light a former guilty plea to election fraud by a member of Moore’s campaign team. Apparently, a member of Moore’s absentee ballot operation was fined $1,400 for election fraud previously.
According to Connecticut’s State Elections Enforcement Commission:
[n]o candidate, party or political committee, or agent of such candidate or committee shall mail unsolicited applications for absentee ballots to any person, unless such mailing includes: (1) A written explanation of the eligibility requirements for voting by absentee ballot as prescribed in subsection (a) of section 9-135, and (2) a written warning that voting or attempting to vote by absentee ballot without meeting one or more of such eligibility requirements subjects the elector or applicant to potential civil and criminal penalties….
Despite Ganim’s assertion that his efforts were meant to benefit voters who otherwise would not be able to vote on election day, the offering of unsolicited absentee ballot information is prohibited without the inclusion of the previously mentioned explanation and warning.
In the state Superior Court in 2017, Judge Barbara Bellis overturned a City Council primary election. This decision may set precedent for the results of this lawsuit. With the problematic pasts of many of the actors involved, it seems the court will have to be diligent in its decision. Judge Barry Stevens ruled that the lawsuit could continue through the courts. This is a developing story, and more is to come within the coming weeks.