Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

June 18, 2024

What to know about the Bridgeport absentee ballot case arrests

BRIAN POUNDS / HEARST CONNECTICUT MEDIA/POOL PHOTO Bridgeport city employee Wanda Geter-Pataky, center, works with her lawyer, John R. Gulash, right, to know which questions to answer so as not to incriminate herself during her testimony in Bridgeport Democratic Primary Mayoral candidate John Gomes' challenge of absentee ballots in Superior Court in Bridgeport, Conn. on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023.

Four political operatives in Bridgeport were arrested last week and charged by Connecticut prosecutors with mishandling absentee ballots during the controversial Democratic primary between Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and his challenger Marilyn Moore in 2019. 

Specifically, the four are accused of unlawfully possessing another individual’s absentee ballot, among other related charges. Three of them are also accused of witness tampering. 

Their arrests come after a yearslong investigation by the State Elections Enforcement Commission into allegations of impropriety.

Here’s what to know about the case.

Who was arrested? 

The four people charged were: Wanda Geter-Pataky, who is vice chairwoman of Bridgeport’s Democratic Party; Alfredo Castillo, a Bridgeport city councilman; Nilsa Heredia, a canvasser for Ganim; and Josephine Edmonds, a canvasser for Moore. 

All four are accused of unlawfully possessing another person’s absentee ballot, while Geter-Pataky, Edmonds and Heredia were also charged with witness tampering.

What are they accused of doing?

Prosecutors allege that the four defendants participated in several illegal activities, including failing to maintain an accurate list of voters to whom they distributed absentee ballot applications to and not signing all of the applications they helped voters fill out.

More serious charges accuse all four of them of helping voters fill out their ballots or  illegally taking voter’s ballots, which were delivered to local election officials. 

Connecticut law states that the only people who are legally able to deliver an absentee ballot on another person’s behalf are direct family members, local election officials, police officers, or the direct caregiver of a voter who is receiving an absentee ballot due to physical disability or illness. Also, voters must appoint someone who fits one of the above requirements as their designee.

Castillo’s case involves a complaint filed by a voter who lived in his city council district. The voter told the SEEC that Castillo helped them receive an absentee ballot in the summer of 2019. However, when the ballot arrived at the voter’s residence, Castillo came to the voter’s house and allegedly took the ballot without letting the voter fill it out. 

When SEEC investigators confronted Castillo with the filled-out ballot, he replied, “Not me. I didn’t take no absentee ballot. I don’t do that,” according to the affidavit.

“I don’t touch none of that stuff… He didn’t give me no ballot,” Castillo told investigators, the document says.

Geter-Pataky is accused of delivering the absentee ballot of a voter to whom she had a personal connection. Unlike Castillo, the ballot picked up by Geter-Pataky was filled out by the voter. When the Connecticut Post, a local publication, began investigating the absentee ballots filed in the 2019 primary, Geter-Pataky allegedly requested the voter not mention her name to anyone, which prosecutors consider witness tampering. 

Were these isolated incidents? 

Accusations of absentee ballot fraud are not new in Bridgeport. 

For years, there have been allegations of absentee ballot improprieties in the city. But there has been even more scrutiny in the latest mayoral election cycles due to the vote totals. Ganim won both of his last two elections due to absentees.

In 2019, Ganim beat Moore, 5,304 to 5,034, a 270-vote margin of victory ascribable to Ganim beating Moore in absentee ballots, 923 to 303.

And, just last year, accusations of absentee ballot chicanery reared their head again during the 2023 Bridgeport Democratic mayoral primary. Ganim was running against mayoral challenger John Gomes and was slightly behind Gomes in the polls before absentee ballots were tallied. However, when absentee ballots, which accounted for over 22% of the vote, were counted, Ganim came out on top.

An investigation by The Connecticut Mirror uncovered that Geter-Pataky, who supported Ganim in the election, had spent four months traversing Bridgeport helping voters fill out absentee ballot applications ahead of the 2023 primary. By the end of the primaries, she helped 537 voters to apply to vote absentee. 

Geter-Pataky was subsequently caught on camera delivering absentee ballots to ballot boxes before the 2023 primary. 

That video spurred a legal battle that resulted in Ganim and Gomes facing off in a redo primary and redo general election that pushed the 2023 race into 2024. Ganim won both redo races, meaning he beat Gomes four times, in two primaries and two general elections. 

There were also a large number of complaints filed alleging misconduct in the 2023 race — so many that the director of the SEEC has said four of the agency’s five investigators had to be assigned solely to the Bridgeport complaints.

In April, two of those cases were referred to the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office for potential criminal charges.

What has the governor said about this? 

Gov. Ned Lamont responded with disappointment to the incidents in Bridgeport and how long it took the SEEC to finish its investigation. 

In a statement to the press after a drill to prepare for election-related emergencies, he said, “I think the answer to that election fraud is why the heck did it take three and a half years for SEEC to refer this to the State’s Attorney’s Office. I thought that was shocking.”

In reference to Geter-Pataky’s position as vice chairwoman of Bridgeport’s Democratic Party, Lamont said, “I think she should step down.”

Michael J. Brandi, the general counsel and executive director of the SEEC, defended his office in an email rebutting the governor’s comment.

“I’m proud of the work our office did. Despite having to work through a global pandemic, we gathered the evidence necessary to make the criminal referral. Our work was the basis of the CSA’s [chief state’s attorney’s] case. We did our job.”

Sign up for Enews

0 Comments

Order a PDF