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Election might not settle Connecticut mayor’s race upended by video of ballot box stuffing

The people of Bridgeport, Connecticut, will cast their ballots for mayor Tuesday knowing there’s a chance the results won’t actually settle an election thrown into uncertainty by allegations of voting irregularities.

A judge last week tossed out the results of the Democratic mayoral primary and ordered a new one, citing “mishandled” absentee ballots that left the court unable to determine who won.

That set up the most bizarre of the mayoral contests being held across the state Tuesday.

Both Democrats who competed in the primary — incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim and challenger John Gomes — are on the ballot again for the general election. Then, they may have to face each other a third time in a new primary to be held at a later date. Depending on the outcome of a continuing court fight, that could then be followed by a rerun of the general election.

“This is an unprecedented situation,” said Gomes’ lawyer, William Bloss.

The Associated Press will not declare a winner in the general election until all legal issues and challenges related to the primary are fully resolved.

In more normal contests being held Tuesday, voters across the state will choose candidates for local offices, including first selectman and school board.

Voters will decide on a new mayor in Hartford, the state’s capital city, after incumbent Mayor Luke Bronin chose not to seek a third term.

Voters in the state’s smallest city, Derby, will decide whether to return the incumbent Republican mayor to office, replace him with a Democrat, or give the office to a Republican charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The mayor’s race in Bridgeport, though, is what has captured attention beyond the state, especially among people who are already skeptical about voting security in U.S. elections

Superior Court Judge William Clark tossed out the primary Nov. 1 after a multiday court hearing on a legal challenge by Gomes, who had appeared to lose the September primary by 251 votes.

The hearing featured surveillance video showing at least two Ganim supporters dropping stacks of absentee ballots into outdoor collection boxes, or directing other people to do so, in violation of a state law requiring voters to drop off their ballots themselves or designate certain people to do it.

Summoned to court to explain, two women seen in the videos invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination and declined to answer questions on the witness stand.

In Clark’s decision, he said the videos and other testimony was evidence of ballot “harvesting,” a banned practice where campaign volunteers visit voters, persuade them to vote by absentee ballot, then collect those ballots or mail them in on behalf of the voters.

“The videos are shocking to the court and should be shocking to all the parties,” the judge wrote.

Ganim, 64, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of wrongdoing related to the ballots. Critics, though, are skeptical. Ganim’s first run as Bridgeport’s mayor was interrupted when he was convicted of corruption and served seven years in prison. He won his old job back in 2015 after his release from prison and contends he has the “good, solid experience” to lead the city of about 148,300.

“Sure, we’re far from a perfect city or a perfect administration,” Ganim said during a recent debate. “But we’re fighters for what’s good for the people of the city of Bridgeport.”

Gomes, the city’s former chief administrative officer, will appear as an independent on Tuesday’s ballot.

If Gomes defeats Ganim and two other candidates, he will withdraw his legal challenge of the primary and “that will be the end of it,” his lawyer, Bloss, said. “There will be no new primary. There’s no new general election.”

The two other candidates are Republican David Herz and Democrat Lamond Daniels, who failed to qualify for the primary and is running as an unaffiliated candidate.

In the mayor’s race in Derby, which has a population of around 12,300, voters face another unusual scenario.

The candidate who won the Republican primary, Alderman Gino DiGiovanni Jr., is awaiting trial on four federal misdemeanor charges, including entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds related to his actions on Jan. 6, 2021.

Prosecutors said he knowingly entered the U.S. Capitol intending to impede or disrupt the certification of President Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 election. DiGiovanni said a police officer allowed him to walk into the building, where he said he walked up the stairs, into the rotunda and out the other side. He said he was laid off from work and decided to travel to Washington, D.C. for the first time to hear Donald Trump’s speech.

“I didn’t go down there to overthrow the government and everyone knows that,” he told the AP in a recent interview.

Also on the general election ballot is the Republican incumbent who lost the primary, three-term Mayor Richard Dziekan. He qualified for the ballot as an independent.

Opposing the two Republicans is Democrat Joseph DiMartino, a former alderman. In a 2021 mayoral election, DiMartino lost to Dziekan by just a few dozen votes.

Non-affiliated candidate Sharlene McEvoy is also in the race.

Susan Haigh, The Associated Press