BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — A local Democratic official in Connecticut’s largest city invoked her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination Friday rather than answer questions in court about allegations of illegal ballot box stuffing during a recent mayoral primary.
Wanda Geter-Pataky, vice chair of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee, exercised her right to remain silent multiple times during a court hearing in a lawsuit challenging the results of the Sept. 12 primary, in which incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim defeated fellow Democrat John Gomes.
Among the questions she wouldn’t answer: Whether she was the woman seen on surveillance footage making multiple trips in the predawn darkness to an election drop box outside a government building, and stuffing papers inside that looked like ballots.
“She is invoking her Fifth Amendment privilege,” her lawyer, John Gulash, told the court.
Testimony began Thursday and is scheduled to continue next week in a court proceeding in which Gomes, Bridgeport’s former chief administrative officer, is demanding a new primary or for Judge William Clark to declare him the victor. Ganim won the primary by 251 votes out of 8,173 cast.
The court fight is taking place just weeks before Bridgeport voters are set to go to the polls in the Nov. 7 general election, when both Ganim and Gomes will be on the ballot again.
The State Elections Enforcement Commission recently launched its own investigation into possible fraud in the Bridgeport primary, based partly over concerns raised in security camera videos that became public shortly after the votes were counted.
In some of them, a woman resembling Geter-Pataky, who works as a greeter at the City Hall annex, can be seen making repeat trips to an absentee ballot drop box outside the building early in the morning on Sept. 5 and stuffing documents inside.
In one video clip shown in court Friday, the woman high-fives a man after watching him deposit possible ballots. In other videos, it appears she hands other people documents that could be ballots and escorts them to the box. Videos were shown of others depositing what appear to be multiple ballots.
Under Connecticut law, people using a collection box to vote by absentee ballot must drop off their completed ballots themselves, or designate certain family members, police, local election officials or a caregiver to do it for them.
Gomes’ attorney in the lawsuit, William Bloss, said the videos prove widespread abuse of the absentee ballot system in Bridgeport.
“It started with the Sept. 5 video … There was all this chatter, ‘Well, it’s only one. It’s been altered. It’s been whatever,’” Bloss said. “Now we know that it was just a small piece of larger coordinated activity.”
Ganim, who was convicted of corruption during a first stint as mayor but won his old job back in an election after his release from prison, has denied any knowledge of wrongdoing related to ballots.
Besides Geter-Pataky, Bloss called former City Council member and current candidate Eneida Martinez to the stand and asked whether she also appears in the latest videos. Martinez, a Democrat, also declined to answer most questions by exercising her 5th Amendment right.
Attorney John Bailey Kennelly, who is representing Bridgeport Democratic Registrar of Voters Patricia Howard, one of the defendants in Gomes’ lawsuit, said the video tells “very little” and is insufficient to show the primary results should be set aside.
“It’s 24 different drops that are on that exhibit. It involves, I believe, only nine people. So this ‘great conspiracy’ that we’ve all been hearing about isn’t there,” he told reporters outside the courthouse. “That exhibit, in and of itself, is no reason to strip the voters of Bridgeport of their rights and disenfranchise them.”
The Bridgeport case, an unusual legal battle between two Democrats over election rigging allegations, has spread through right-wing social media platforms and on far-right media, connecting the controversy to the 2020 stolen election claims. MyPillow chief executive and election denier Mike Lindell’s legal defense fund recently referenced the Bridgeport controversy in a fundraising appeal.
Meanwhile, Ganim has accused the Gomes campaign of hypocrisy, claiming some of his campaign workers were also caught on video depositing multiple absentee ballots into drop boxes. Gomes has said he has spoken with those shown in the videos and been told they were dropping off ballots for relatives. Under Connecticut law, certain family members, police, local election officials or a caregiver can drop off a ballot for an absentee voter.
Ganim has been subpoenaed to testify in Gomes’ lawsuit. He could appear on Tuesday.
Susan Haigh, The Associated Press