Another Democrat accused of mishandling absentee ballots in Connecticut city with history of controversial elections

The State Elections Enforcement Commission in Connecticut has issued yet another criminal referral for a Democrat official in Bridgeport, where four other Democrats and former campaign operatives have already been accused of mishandling absentee ballots.

Maria Pereira

On Wednesday, the SEEC added a criminal referral for Bridgeport City Councilwoman Maria Pereira in connection with absentee ballots collected for her Democrat primary last year. On Primary Election Day 2023, Pereira seemed to be losing her re-election bid until absentee ballots added later that evening suddenly pushed her over the edge to victory.

‘Maria likes to bribe the seniors, bringing them Christmas presents … buying them food, getting them little things.’

The SEEC’s referral stems from a complaint issued by one of Pereira’s Democrat opponents, Kevin Monks, and includes statements from several residents of one particular low-income apartment complex “heavily targeted by campaigns in the 2023 primary,” the CT Mirror said.

“Maria Pereira came to my home and took the ballot,” one resident said. “She indicated that she would mail it for me. She told me what line to vote for and I sign[ed] it.”

“For 4 years Maria Pereira has taken my voting ballot and stuffed it in her bag to drop it off,” another resident wrote in a letter. “Maria likes to bribe the seniors, bringing them Christmas presents … buying them food, getting them little things.”

Screenshots of handwritten notes scribbled on what appear to be absentee ballot materials and shared on X by John Craven of News 12 Connecticut indicate that Pereira — or someone pretending to be Pereira — attempted to influence the way people completed their ballots.

“You get to vote for whoever you want, just like I get to choose which residen[ts] I help or don’t help,” Pereira allegedly wrote on one person’s absentee ballot instructions.

On another set of instructions, she allegedly wrote, “No one will ever know!” followed by a heart and her name.

“Both during the Primary and afterwards, we heard from many residents who complained that Pereira had engaged in illegal and unethical behavior both during the election and past elections,” Monks wrote in the complaint.

Despite the statements and apparent evidence against her, Pereira brushed off the criminal referral as mere grandstanding from a bitter political rival.

“I am not worried about it in the least,” she said in a statement. “This is not a sprint but a marathon, and I’m preparing a massive lawsuit against the city.”

Leaders of the Yankee Institute, a government watchdog organization in Connecticut, believe this latest referral demonstrates the “systemic rot” that pervades state politics and will further erode public trust in the electoral process.

“For Americans — regardless of party — to have confidence in our electoral process, they have to know the government is committed to enforcing clean, fair elections,” said Carol Platt Liebau, president of the Yankee Institute. “Defending the integrity of the ballot is one of government’s most sacred duties.”

“The latest allegations in Bridgeport demonstrate systemic rot in Connecticut, where elected officials have been largely absent in safeguarding absentee ballots — fair and free elections must transcend partisan politics,” Frank Ricci, a Connecticut fire chief and Yankee Institute fellow, told Blaze News.

The SEEC investigates complaints of election fraud and then makes recommendations for possible criminal charges to Chief State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin as appropriate. A spokesperson from Griffin’s office did not respond to a request for comment from the Trumbell Times.

Pereira was arrested in connection with an altercation that broke out at a “balloting” location on Election Day last fall, but prosecutors declined to pursue charges.

Bridgeport elections in recent history

Absentee ballots sure seem to have outsized impact on elections in Bridgeport, Connecticut’s most populous city.

In both 2019 and 2023, incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim — whose decades in office were interrupted when he spent seven years behind bars for felony convictions related to political corruption — managed to squeak by a tough challenger in the Democrat mayoral primary, as Blaze News previously reported.

The 2023 primary was so problematic that a judge tossed the results and ordered a primary do-over.

In both primaries, Ganim’s challenger seemed to have a healthy lead until absentee ballots were later added to the mix. Those absentee ballots ultimately gave Ganim a 270-vote victory over state Sen. Marilyn Moore in 2019 and a 251-vote victory over John Gomes last fall.

Last month, three members of Ganim’s 2019 campaign and one member of Moore’s campaign were slapped with criminal charges in connection to some of those absentee ballots. The charges range from mishandling or illicitly possessing an absentee ballot to witness tampering.

Two of the defendants in that case are current Bridgeport Democrat officials. Alfredo Castillo is a Democrat city councilman. Co-defendant Wanda Geter-Pataky, a longtime supporter of Mayor Ganim, is the vice chairwoman of the city’s Democratic Party.

Geter-Pataky was apparently caught on surveillance cameras stuffing ballot boxes outside City Hall for the 2023 mayoral primary as well. In fact, that 2023 mayoral primary was so problematic that a judge tossed the results and ordered a primary do-over, though Ganim prevailed in the second primary as well as the general election.

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