Why Journalism Matters: Read CT Mirror’s Groundbreaking Investigation Into Bridgeport’s 2023 Elections
How Bridgeport political operatives influenced the absentee voting process ahead of this year’s mayoral primary.
On Sunday, December 17th, The Connecticut Mirror released a groundbreaking investigative story into Bridgeport’s 2023 mayoral primary, one that exposes the shocking, yet widely-known truth about our elections: Political operatives break election laws and target and manipulate some of our most vulnerable voters, all for the purpose of controlling the outcomes of our local elections.
This story builds on the evidence we gathered with a team of canvassers after the 2019 mayoral primary and presented in the subsequent historic lawsuit, Lazar v. Ganim, as well as the evidence presented in court during this year’s unprecedented Gomes v. Clemons trial. It affirms what Bridgeport voters have known for decades: Local Democratic Party officials, operatives, and candidates rely on the harvesting of absentee ballots to win their elections. And it points to clear and comprehensive reforms that must be passed this legislative session, if we are to restore democracy in Connecticut’s largest city.
Led by a team of reporters and editors, this painstaking investigation took months, uncovering the patterns and practices of Democratic party leaders, political operatives, and candidates like Wanda Geter-Pataky, Alfredo Castillo, Maria Pereira, and more. From CT Mirror:
In reporting “How the battle for absentee ballots defined the Bridgeport election,” The Connecticut Mirror documented how Bridgeport political operatives influenced the absentee voting process ahead of this year’s mayoral primary. Here’s how we did it.
To create the basic database, a team of reporters and editors digitized PDF files of more than 4,400 absentee ballot applications that were submitted ahead of the primary and later entered as evidence in court. We manually entered information from every application into a spreadsheet, including voter name, the dates each application was signed and submitted, the name of the person noted as assisting in filling out the application and other relevant information.“How CT Mirror investigated Bridgeport’s absentee voting process,” by José Luis Martínez and Katy Golvala, December 17, 2023 @ 4:58 am
We’ll have more to share about what’s been revealed from this important investigation, but in the meantime, here are some key takeaways:
1. Bridgeport had the highest percentage of absentee votes during the 2023 primaries, double the percentage in Stamford and more than triple in New Haven.
2. The scramble to sign up absentee voters for this year’s primary began in earnest in early June, and the various campaigns were so persistent that at least 370 Bridgeport residents eventually had two or more absentee applications submitted in their names.
3. Wanda Geter-Pataky, who backed Ganim, assisted more people in filling out absentee ballot applications than anyone else, signing her name to over 530 applications. That represented at least 12% of the applications that were submitted, despite the fact that records indicate she never registered to distribute those forms, as state law requires.
4. Wanda Geter-Pataky did not register with the town clerk to handle absentee applications during the primary. Instead, she distributed applications that were signed out of the clerk’s office by Democratic state Rep. Marcus Brown, Democratic Town Committee member Stephen Eaton, and Alfredo Castillo, a city councilman who was also referred by the SEEC this year for potential criminal charges stemming from his actions during Bridgeport’s 2019 municipal primary.
5. 336 of Wanda Geter-Pataky’s applications came from Alfredo Castillo. Brown, Eaton, Castillo, and Aidee Nieves all failed to file reports by election day detailing which voters they provided with applications.
6. Bridgeport Generation Now Votes requested 19,000 absentee applications ahead of the primary this year and mailed the forms to a larger number of eligible Democratic voters in Bridgeport. This was an effort to lessen the voters’ reliance on the people who were going door-to-door and to cut down on instances of coercion and fraud. They followed state law by registering with the clerk and turning in a detailed report about which voters they mailed the applications to.
7. Almost half of the absentee ballots requested in Bridgeport went to voters in the 137th and 138th districts. Nowhere was the contest for absentee votes more cutthroat than Bridgeport’s 138th district in the city’s northeast corner, where the mayoral contest played out alongside a competitive race for two city council seats between Maria Pereira and Jazmarie Melendez vs. Kevin Monks and Samia Suliman.
8. Bridgeport Generation Now Votes said they are going to advocate for a bill that prohibits any candidate, campaign staffer or party official from handling or distributing applications for absentee ballots. Their hope is that such a change would limit who can request an absentee ballot for another person to family members and other legal designees. That type of legislation, which is already law in states including Massachusetts, would be the best way to fix Bridgeport’s elections and to prevent voters from being further exposed to “manipulation, harassment, intimidation and fraud.”