Photo: Brian Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media
BRIDGEPORT — City lawyers fighting the legal challenge to Mayor Joe Ganim’s narrow Democratic primary victory on Tuesday attacked claims that mistakes in voter addresses made by the Town Clerk’s office were major violations of state election law.
The case, in its second week under an expedited hearing schedule, focused on Assistant Town Clerk Christina Resto, who provided testimony indicating that her office made good-faith efforts, based on state voter records, to make minor corrections to addresses of voters, some of whom didn’t even cast ballots in the controversial Sept. 10 primary.
As the two-and-a-half-hour afternoon session reached a conclusion, Superior Court Judge Barry Stevens said he was surprised that the case wasn’t yet finished. “I hadn’t planned on this matter continuing until tomorrow,” said Stevens, who will hear more arguments on Wednesday morning.
Deputy City Attorney John Bohannon Jr. spent most of the afternoon reviewing address changes made by the clerk’s office that plaintiffs claimed violated state election law, and whose votes by absentee ballot should have been disqualified.
Stevens is trying to determine whether there were enough errors in the primary total to cast doubt on Ganim’s 270-vote margin over state Sen. Marilyn Moore, who is planning an Election Day write-in campaign. Under state law, he is allowed to overturn the primary results and order a new primary, delaying the Nov. 5 election if approved by the state Supreme Court.
“The plaintiffs have not shown the outcome of this election was seriously in doubt,” Bohannon said. “That’s been the major flaw in the plaintiffs’ case since the onset. The plaintiffs in this case have not shown a mistake in the count of the vote.” When plaintiffs’ attorneys rested their case, Bohannon asked for an immediate dismissal, upon which Stevens did not rule.
In a summation brief filed Tuesday morning, Jonathan M. Shapiro and Prerna Rao, the attorneys for Bridgeport Generation Now Votes, PT Partners and three local residents, asked Stevens to throw out the results of the primary because of a wide range of voting irregularities and alleged violations of state election law.
“The evidence at trial established extensive illegal activity and abuse amounting to the extent that it cast the primary results in serious doubt,” Shapiro and Rao wrote. During this month’s trial, the lawyers claimed that votes were improperly counted; absentee ballots from unqualified or unregistered voters were cast and counted; and absentee ballots were mailed out or submitted to election officials in violation of state law.
Defense briefs are due Thursday morning.
In part, the impetus for the lawsuit was coverage of the primary by Hearst Connecticut Media, which reported on Sept. 19 about electors getting illegal pressure from campaign workers to vote for Ganim via absentee ballot, as well as unqualified felons casting votes. The reports resulted in a referral from Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to the State Elections Enforcement Commission, which opened an active investigation into the primary.
Ganim lost the election at the polls by about 344 votes, but his lopsided, 3-to-1 majority on absentee ballots was the reason for his victory.
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