Ruling on Bridgeport, CT Democratic Primary became fodder for election deniers
By Rebekah Jones
A judge in Connecticut ordered an election do-over after video surfaced of two women turning in absentee ballots in a potential case of ballot harvesting.
The election held Sept. 12 was a Democratic primary for Mayor of Bridgeport.
The incumbent mayor - embroiled in his own controversies - defeated his Democratic challenger by just 251 votes out of more than 8,000.
The judge cited “ballot mishandling” as the cause for the do-over.
At no point was the word “fraud” introduced in the ruling as justification for ordering a new primary.
In fact, at no point did either party to the lawsuit (the incumbent (D) & challenger (D)) allege any voter fraud had occurred.
That didn’t stop Elon Musk and the alt-right-manosphere from twisting the ruling into what they say is clear-cut evidence of massive election and voter fraud by Democrats.
Of course that’s not what happened. Elon falsely called the ruling proof of “ballot stuffing.” That’s a lie. Benny Johnson - a self-described “media personality”- falsely called the case proof of fraud. That’s another lie.
From there it spread like wildfire - the lies becoming more grandiose with each retweet.
Republicans seized on the opportunity to paint Democrats as election fraudsters, bolstering debunked claims about massive election fraud in 2020.
Some of the confusion could be chalked up to a misunderstanding of terms like ballot harvesting, ballot stuffing and voter fraud. The AP deserves some of that blame for using the wrong term in their initial headline (they said “ballot stuffing” instead of “ballot harvesting”).
But by now, with the story thoroughly covered by the media, there’s no excuse for the continued peddling of the lies.
What is the difference between “ballot mishandling” as described by the judge and election/voter fraud?
A wave of state laws tightening limits on mail-in voting in the last several years have targeted, among other things, what is called ballot collecting or ballot harvesting.
Ballot harvesting is when someone collects completed, legal ballots and turns them in for someone else at a designated drop box.
In Mississippi, New York and 10 other states, anyone can turn in your ballot to a drop box location. In Pennsylvania, anyone can turn in your ballot as long as you give them written permission.
In Alabama, only the voter can turn it in - not a spouse, child, relative, caregiver, or legal designee. Alabama is the only state that requires the voter to turn in the ballot themselves.
In Connecticut, only three groups of people can turn in a mail ballot for someone else:
(A) the ballot applicant,
(B) a designee of a person who applies for an absentee ballot because of illness or physical disability, or
(C) a member of the immediate family. “Immediate family” means a dependent relative who resides in the individual's household or any spouse, child or parent of the individual.
Think of ballot harvesting like a community church offering to collect and turn in ballots for their congregation, or canvassers going door to door to collect and turn in ballots completed by voters.
There is no voter fraud or election fraud when it is the voter whose name is on the ballot who completed the ballot.
Ballot stuffing, however, is a crime.
Ballotpedia defines ballot stuffing as: “the act of casting illegal votes or submitting more than one ballot per voter when only one ballot per voter is permitted.”
So if there’s an election for prom queen and one of the girls on the court grabs stacks of ballots and votes for herself on all of them, that would be ballot stuffing.
Voter fraud typically refers to a voter who votes more than once in the same election, usually by voting in two locations or by using someone else’s ballot. This happened a dozen or so times with Republicans from The Villages in Florida. One even used his dead father’s ballot to vote for Trump twice. However, voter fraud is extremely rare. Investigations in the six “swing states” in 2020 found only 475 cases of potential voter fraud out of more than 25 million votes cast - less than 0.001%
Electoral fraud includes voter fraud, ballot stuffing, buying votes, and any other illegal interference in an election. That also includes voter suppression and the January 6 terrorist attack, but Republican’s like to skip that part of election-related fraud.
The Democratic challenger and the incumbent in this case both signed legal briefs stating they did not believe any voter fraud had occurred or that any ballots were not the true and real ballots of the people they were sent to. Fraud has not been alleged in any part of the proceedings. The alt-right made that up.
The judge took umbrage with how many ballots the two women submitted, though at this point the allegations of ballot harvesting are just that - allegations.
One of the two women was seen with a plastic grocery bag and a half-dozen ballots. For all anyone knows at this point, those ballots could belong to her and her family members.
An actual case of ballot stuffing and voter fraud happened just last year in Connecticut when a candidate forged signatures when he applied for dozens of absentee ballots for other people without their knowledge to vote for himself. He was sentenced to two years probation and a $35,000 fine.
That’s not what’s alleged here.
But the far-right wasted no time in inventing crimes and vilifying the two women — as they so often do.