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Bridgeport voters try again to pick mayor after 1st election tossed due to absentee ballot scandal

The voters of Bridgeport, Connecticut, are going to the polls to choose their mayor — some for the fourth time — after the result of the last election was thrown out because of allegations of absentee ballot box stuffing during a Democratic primary.

Tuesday’s election could finally decide whether incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim wins another term or his former aide, John Gomes, takes the reins of Connecticut’s largest city.

Both Democrats have been trying to rally voters, many fatigued and frustrated, to once again cast ballots in a protracted race that’s been overshadowed by accusations of voting irregularities.

They have also sniped at one another. Ganim accused Gomes of running for mayor out of revenge for being fired as the city’s acting chief administrative officer, saying putting him in charge would be a “mistake.”

Gomes, in turn, has brought up Ganim’s criminal record. After an initial 12-year run as mayor, Ganim was convicted of corruption. He spent seven years in prison, then persuaded voters in 2015 to bring him back as mayor.

“I can no longer tolerate the abusive insults and ad hominem attacks aimed at me by a lawless, immoral, and unscrupulous disbarred lawyer who is bent on perpetuating a corrupt enterprise in the City of Bridgeport,” Gomes wrote in a recent opinion piece.

Bridgeport’s path to Election Day has been complicated, and to some in the city of 148,000, embarrassing.

There have now been two primaries. Ganim appeared to win the first one, held in September, but the result was voided by Superior Court Judge William Clark after security camera footage emerged showing what appeared to be at least two of the mayor’s supporters making repeat trips to ballot collection boxes and stuffing them with papers that looked like absentee ballots.

Longtime political observers in Bridgeport said it looked — at best — like evidence of ballot harvesting, an illegal practice where campaign operatives and volunteers cajole people into filling out absentee ballots for their candidate, and then collect and submit those ballots. Connecticut law requires most people to drop off their ballots themselves. Ganim, who has accused the Gomes campaign of committing voting irregularities, said he was unaware of any wrongdoing by his supporters.

Because the court decision came less than a week before the general election was scheduled, the November vote went ahead as planned. Ganim got more votes, but that result didn’t count, either, because of the judge’s ruling.

A new Democratic primary was held on Jan. 23. Ganim won again, this time more comfortably, but the two Democrats are facing off yet again Tuesday because Gomes had also qualified for the ballot as an independent candidate.

Some potential voters are exhausted.

“I hear customers talk about it,” said Nick Roussas, owner of Frankie’s Diner in Bridgeport. “A lot of people are tired that we’re coming to a fourth election.”

Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said despite the fatigue, voter turnout during this protracted election has been modest yet steady. Also, she said election monitors have been in the Town Clerk’s office daily, conducting spot checks of absentee ballot applicants and reviewing video footage of outdoor drop boxes. Since Feb. 1, her office has made three referrals to the State Elections Enforcement Commission regarding possible election violations.

Ganim picked up support from top Democrats in the final days of his campaign, including endorsements from Gov. Ned Lamont, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and appearance by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz at a get-out-the-vote rally Saturday.

“Your support is crucial now more than ever,” he urged supporters in a Facebook post.

Besides Ganim and Gomes, Republican David Herz is running in the do-over general election. Herz didn’t attract much support in the first election in the heavily Democratic city.

Susan Haigh, The Associated Press



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