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November 20, 2023

Judge OKs January date for Bridgeport second primary

NED GERARD / HEARST CONNECTICUT MEDIA/POOL PHOTO Judge William Clark presides over a hearing in Bridgeport Superior Court, in Bridgeport, Conn. Sept. 25, 2023.

A judge endorsed a plan to hold Bridgeport’s second mayoral primary between Mayor Joe Ganim and challenger John Gomes on Jan. 23 with absentee ballot applications available starting Dec. 29, in line with an agreement reached earlier this week.

Judge William Clark’s order, which was filed late Friday afternoon, came shortly after attorneys representing Bridgeport election officials asked him to extend the time absentee ballot applications would be available.

In a nine-page memorandum filed Friday, attorneys for Registrar of Voters Patricia Howard and Town Clerk Clarence Clemons asked Clark to allow absentee ballot applications to go out starting Dec. 1.

Attorney John Kennelly, who is representing Howard, argued that the time frame set by the state is too short, particularly since it also is around the holidays, when people are away.

“Allowing for only twenty-five days between applications being available and the votes being counted is going to inevitably suppress eligible voters’ ability to utilize this statutorily protected right to vote by absentee ballot,” Kennelly wrote.

“We should encourage participation rather than discourage participation by restricting access. There simply is no legitimate basis to support such a restriction.”

In an interview with the Connecticut Mirror Friday afternoon, Kennelly said, “My clients want to ensure an accurate and accessible election, which should include enough time to have absentee applications and ballots made, received and responded to if there are problems.”

But William Bloss, the attorney for Gomes, questioned why the city has changed its mind at the 11th hour on that date when they had agreed to it several days before.

“This certainly raises a question as to whether they want to continue to do with absentee ballots what got us here in the first place,” Bloss said.

Gomes challenged the results of the Sept. 12 primary based on video evidence that showed Ganim supporters allegedly depositing stacks of absentee ballots into drop boxes in the city. State law prohibits individuals from handling other voters’ ballots, unless they are a family member, caregiver or “designee” for those people.

Clark sided with Gomes and ordered a second primary. Ganim won the Nov. 7 general election by a slim margin, again buoyed by absentee ballots.

Kennelly’s memorandum also addresses the possibility that a second general election would be needed no matter what the result is of the Jan. 23 primary. Earlier this week, the secretary of the state set Feb. 27 as the date for a possible second general election.

If Gomes wins the primary, there will definitely be a second general election.

But attorneys for both Ganim and Gomes have stated previously that they believe if Ganim wins the second primary that he is elected mayor, but the secretary of the state raised the possibility that there would need to be a second general election no matter what happens on Jan. 23.

Kennelly said he “wants to reserve the right to argue that it wouldn’t be necessary if Ganim wins the second primary.”

“The court has never had to decide this issue, and I just want a means to preserve an argument on a future election if necessary,” Kennelly said.

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