Three of the five candidates on the ballot in next Tuesday’s special election for the 130th House District in Bridgeport are asking for increased oversight of absentee ballots, which they say could tip the race and are ripe for fraud.
In a letter Wednesday to the secretary of the state’s office and the State Elections Enforcement Commission, Kate Rivera, Hector Diaz and Josh Parrow raised concerns about the integrity of the voting and requested supervised balloting at seven apartment complexes in the city where 20 or more absentee ballots were distributed. Most of them are senior housing locations.
It’s the latest election upheaval in the state’s largest city, where a judge extended voting for two hours during the 2010 governor’s race because of a ballot shortage that caused chaos.
“Our residents have been and will continue to be disenfranchised by this decades-long, pervasive abuse of the absentee ballot system,” the letter said. “We are truly undermining the purpose of absentee ballots: to ensure that those who are ill, disabled, out-of-town on the day of the election, serving in the armed forces, or even working at the polls on that day can have the opportunity to have their voice heard by casting an absentee ballot.”
Rivera and Diaz, a former state representative, are Democrats running as petition candidates. Parrow is the Republican nominee. The trio is seeking to fill the vacancy created by the death of Ezequiel Santiago, a well-liked Democrat who suffered an apparent heart attack in mid-March.
They are competing against Antonio Felipe, the Democratic nominee, and former state Rep. Christina Ayala, a petition candidate whose mother, Santa “Sandi” Ayala is the city’s Democratic registrar of voters and was copied on the request.
Ayala and her Republican counterpart Linda Grace wrote back Thursday that because of short notice and training involved it would be a “daunting task” to try to supervise the absentee ballots at the seven locations.
Rivera said she is concerned about Ayala’s independence.
“Christina literally waited on me when I went in [the registrars’ office] at the beginning of April and she’s also a candidate,” said Rivera, a social justice and diversity educator. “This is just egregious.”
Ayala served in the House from 2013 to 2015, but lost in a four-way primary in 2014 while facing charges for falsifying her address to vote, run for office and qualify for public campaign financing. She pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence.
“Honestly, I was working at the registrars. When I began having the notion of running, I actually asked for a leave of absence,” Ayala said. “I could see how that could be viewed as a potential conflict.”
Ayala said the signatures she collected to get onto the ballot for the special election were checked by someone else in the registrars’ office to avoid a conflict.
“I have run several different times and this issue hasn’t come up,” Ayala said. "My mother actually doesn’t handle anything within any district that I’m running in."
A request for comment was also left for Santa “Sandi” Ayala.
Rivera said 53 absentee ballots alone were requested at the Stratfield Apartments, a low-income and senior housing complex at 1241 E. Main St. She said she was troubled when some absentee ballot recipients alluded to “voting rebates.”
Felipe, the endorsed Democrat in the race, declined to comment Thursday.
Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesman for Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, said the state’s top election official does not have the authority to order a municipality to conduct supervised absentee balloting.
The state law requires supervised absentee balloting at assisted living facilities, nursing homes, health care facilities, veterans hospitals and substance abuse treatment centers with 20 or more patients who are voters.
On the concerns raised about a conflict of interest, Rosenberg said state law prohibits a spouse, parent, grandparent, child, or sibling of a candidate from counting absentee ballots and from being involved in the process.