Sen. Harding: CT Should Prohibit Issuing Unsolicited Absentee Ballot Applications to Voters

July 8, 2024

Name of Bridgeport official charged with election fraud on log of those obtaining absentee ballot forms

By Brian Lockhart
CT Post

Three weeks before City Councilman Alfredo Castillo was arrested for alleged absentee ballot abuses, his name and address appeared on a city log recording who obtained absentee ballot applications for the upcoming legislative primaries.

According to a log maintained by the town clerk’s office, on May 21 Alfredo Castillo of Noble Avenue took out 550 applications — the most of the over four dozen entries between April 9 and July 2, the  .

Castillo has said he lives on Noble Street and the address is listed on his voter registration.

Castillo would not be required to notify the town clerk which candidate or candidates he could be assisting.

On June 11, Castillo and three other local Democratic operatives were charged following a nearly five-year state probe with multiple counts of election fraud in connection with absentee ballots for their party’s 2019 mayoral primary between incumbent Joe Ganim and then-challenger state Sen. Marilyn Moore.

Castillo, a Ganim ally, was charged with misrepresenting eligibility requirements for voting by absentee ballot; failure to maintain an absentee ballot distribution list; and failure to sign as assister on an absentee ballot.

The names of the other three suspects in that case — Josephine Edmonds, Wanda Geter-Pataky and Nilsa Heredia — do not appear on the town clerk’s log.

Neither Castillo nor his attorney returned requests for comments.

Absentee or mail-in ballots, available under state law to certain voters unable to go to their in-person polling sites on election day, have been known in Bridgeport to decide competitive races, particularly in typically low-turnout primaries.

Alleged absentee ballot abuses in last year’s mayoral race between Ganim and fellow Democrat John Gomes resulted in a superior court judge ordering a do-over primary for this past January and a new general election held in February. As of April, that was also being probed by the Office of the Chief State’s attorney for potential criminal prosecution, although no suspects have so far been named by that agency.

Asked about Castillo’s name being listed on the absentee ballot log, Tara Chozet, communications director for Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, said in a statement Friday that “It is concerning if anyone guilty of an election crime is not held accountable in a timely manner.”

But she added that “allegations and investigations are not convictions, and there is nothing in the law that would allow our office to limit availability of absentee ballot applications.”

There are eight people competing in one of Bridgeport’s three legislative primaries Aug. 13.

Of those contacted for this article, state Rep. Andre Baker and Councilwoman Eneida Martinez, who are vying for the 124th District House of Representatives seat, said Castillo is not affiliated with their campaigns.

Incumbent Herron Gaston and Councilman Ernie Newton are competing in the 23rd state Senate District, which includes portions of Bridgeport and Stratford.

“We haven’t spoken to him at all,” Gaston said of Castillo.

Newton said “there’s a lot of people helping out (but) I haven’t heard of anything he’s doing for me.”

Lastly there is a four-way primary to replace Moore, who is retiring after a decade from representing the 22nd state Senate District, which encompasses Trumbull and neighborhoods in Bridgeport and Monroe.

Three of the candidates, Bridgeport Councilman Scott Burns, his recently resigned council colleague, Tyler Mack, and Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox of Truimbull, said Castillo is not with them.

The fourth, former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, a long-time neighbor of Castillo’s, could not be reached for comment.

Last year’s absentee ballot scandal in Bridgeport resulted in some reforms passing the legislature before members adjourned in May. There had been some talk of finding ways to limit the number of applications any one individual or campaign can obtain, but nothing was codified.

“We’ve had conversations about removing political parties and candidates from the process altogether and instead having the state fund the dissemination of absentee ballot applications and using barcodes — as is done in other states — to track the process from beginning to end,” Chozet said Friday.

State Senate Republican Leader Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, said Friday he would like to see a prohibition on issuing unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters.

He believes that would dissuade operatives and campaigns from taking them out in bulk.

Chozet noted that state-funded election monitors who were on the job in Bridgeport during the city’s recent mayor’s race will be back at work for August’s legislative primaries.

“Election integrity is a top priority for our office,” Chozet said. “We are working with the election monitors to prevent election interference within the bounds of our office’s jurisdiction. We will continue to collaborate with lawmakers on legislative changes to remove any electoral loopholes.”