Connecticut lawmakers take first steps to pass bill calling for cameras at absentee ballot boxes

Connecticut lawmakers are taking their first steps toward tightening absentee ballot laws since video last year captured people stuffing reams of ballots into collection boxes in Bridgeport, the state's most populous city
FILE - Manuel Alcantara deposits absentee ballots for his son and daughter in a dropbox outside City Hall in Bridgeport, Conn., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Haigh, File)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

FILE - Manuel Alcantara deposits absentee ballots for his son and daughter in a dropbox outside City Hall in Bridgeport, Conn., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Haigh, File)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — State lawmakers took the first steps Friday toward tightening absentee ballot laws since video last year captured people stuffing reams of ballots into collection boxes in one city, creating a "black eye" for Connecticut and fueling skepticism in some circles about U.S. election security.

Mandatory surveillance cameras at absentee drop-boxes and improved tracking of ballots, as well as new protections for poll workers, are among the proposed changes in a bill that easily cleared the House of Representatives.

Democrats and Republicans said Friday it was important to pass legislation that increases the public's confidence in state elections, even though no one has been charged yet in connection with the alleged ballot irregularities in the September mayoral primary in Bridgeport - the results of which were tossed out by a judge.

“This episode was a black eye for the city, for the state, and for the vast, vast majority of election officials, candidates and campaign workers in this state who follow our laws with the utmost integrity and competence,” Democratic Rep. Matt Blumenthal said. “It did reveal to us some gaps in our current laws and measures that we can take to increase the security, transparency and overall integrity and public perception of integrity of our elections."

Blumenthal noted there has been no proof so far that any voter was impersonated or their vote was manipulated in Bridgeport. Also, he said there has been no evidence to date that any fake or erroneous ballots were “stuffed” into the ballot boxes. Several investigations are underway.

While questions of election security have led to bitter partisan fights in other states this year, Connecticut's bill passed the Democratic controlled House of Representatives unanimously. It now awaits final legislative action in the Democratic controlled Senate. The session ends May 8.

The bill would require cities and towns by July 1, 2025, to install a video camera for each absentee ballot drop box and make the footage available to the public. It also includes new measures for tracking where and when individual absentee ballots were collected and tighter procedures for obtaining an absentee ballot.

There are also provisions to address redundancies in voter rolls and speed up referrals of potential criminal violations of election law to the appropriate authorities.

The bill additionally allows poll workers to apply to have their home addresses not subject to open records requests for 90 days before and after an election — a measure aimed at protecting them from possible harassment. Anyone who reveals the worker's address would face a misdemeanor charge under the legislation.

Republican Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco criticized the bill for not going far enough, saying it should have included more measures to prevent election fraud, such as requiring signatures on absentee ballots be verified. But she said Friday’s bill was a welcome first step.

“This is good stuff for after the fact. It’s a step in the right direction,” she said. “I don’t think it goes far enough. But again, It doesn’t hurt our elections.”

After narrowly losing to incumbent Democratic Mayor Joe Ganim in September, primary opponent John Gomes made public surveillance videos he had received from city-owned security cameras showing a Ganim supporter making multiple early-morning trips to stuff absentee ballots into a drop box. An apparent blatant violation of state law, Gomes successfully challenged the results in court, and a new primary was ordered.

Ganim ultimately won reelection in late February as mayor of Connecticut's most populous city following a messy race that included a do-over primary, a general election that didn't count, and a new general election.

The scandal became a national talking point when the drop-box surveillance videos were first made public, fueling skepticism about the security of U.S. elections as well as conspiracy theories involving the 2020 presidential election, even as election experts contend what happened in Bridgeport is unique to the city and shouldn't be seen as evidence of widespread problems.