Absentee Ballot Allegations Still Alive Against Gonzalez
June 14, 2009
The death of a witness enabled Hartford state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez last week to turn aside one of seven allegations that she broke absentee balloting laws in 2006.
But an examination of files at the State Elections Enforcement Commission shows there's a lot more to come in the case.
And the enforcement agency's main witness for at least several of the remaining six charges — a 41-year-old state juvenile probation officer, Michael Barry — is alive and well, and has confirmed that he'll be there to testify at a July 9 hearing about his 2006 complaint against Gonzalez, a Democrat.
Barry filed his complaint Nov. 1, 2006, six days before the election in which Gonzalez Barry said in the complaint that he saw Gonzalez in the clerk's office at city hall on Oct. 30, standing next to a conference table at which several people were filling out absentee ballots because they weren't going to able to vote in person on Nov. 7.
It is illegal in Connecticut for a candidate — even one unopposed in an election — to be in the presence of a person who is filling out an absentee ballot. A candidate also is not allowed to handle the absentee ballot of a non-family member.
If Barry's sworn complaint is upheld — and it is filled with details, down to the smile on the face of an elderly voter whom he encountered — Gonzalez may have violated both those prohibitions.
Gonzalez denied any violations last week. "All of this, what people are saying, is not true," she said. She declined to go into detail but said she has witnesses lined up to help her prove her story. The six violations of which she is accused carry a maximum civil fine of $2,000 each.
Back in 2006, Barry had a condo at One Linden Place, across Main Street from city hall. In his complaint, he said that on the afternoon of Oct. 30, he went into the city clerk's office to vote by absentee ballot because he was going to be out of town on Election Day. He signed in and was directed to sit at a conference table where four elderly people sat, conversing in Spanish.
Gonzalez "was standing right next to the table," he said in the complaint, adding: "Rep. Gonzalez was speaking with them in Spanish as they were filling out the ballots. I did not understand what they were saying, but I immediately thought it was odd that a state representative who is running for re-election was standing at the City Clerk's office with voters as they were actually voting. ...
"After a male voter finished voting, his envelope was taken up to the counter by Rep. Gonzalez. ... I remember the voter's name as 'Raul Rivera.' He was a pleasant looking older gentleman and I remember we smiled at one another.
"After a while, the Town Clerk, Mr. [Daniel] Carey, came out of a back office and greeted Rep. Gonzalez. He asked for a minute of her time. She then accompanied Mr. Carey to a back office where they stayed for about two minutes. Rep. Gonzalez came back into the room and a few minutes later, Mr. Carey called my name and handed me my absentee ballot."
Barry filled out his ballot and handed it in. He took down Carey's phone number and called him a half-hour later. "I mentioned to him that I did not believe a candidate should be present while voters were voting by absentee ballot. He replied to the effect that Rep. Gonzalez believed she was helping her people. He also mentioned that she did not have an opponent."
The call ended in about 30 seconds. Barry said Carey did not say "that this would ever happen again or whether incidents like these take place habitually in his office."
The next day, Barry called the elections agency to ask about "the incidents I had witnessed at Hartford City Hall. ... I have worked for the State Judicial Branch for 10 years and I feel it is my duty to question these events. ... I am a lifelong Democrat and I have no relationship with and have never met the representative about whom I have complained."
Carey and Barry could not be reached for comment.
Rivera, the "older gentleman" whom Barry said he encountered in the clerk's office, is on the election enforcement agency's list of potential witnesses for the July 9 hearing, as are Barry, Gonzalez, and Carey and several other city officials. Carey is also on Gonzalez's list of witnesses.
The election agency's hearing on the six remaining allegations against Gonzalez was originally scheduled to be held last Wednesday but was postponed to July 9 after Barry was unable to appear because of work-related obligations.
Gonzalez's lawyer, Thomas J. Weihing of Bridgeport, had subpoenaed at least one city hall official in preparation for Wednesday. But as it turned out, the only allegation that came up Wednesday was one in which Gonzalez was accused of being illegally present when a woman at a Hartford apartment building for the elderly filled out her absentee ballot for the March 2006 Democratic town committee primary.
The voter, Gwendolyn Kidd, died last November, amid delays in the case caused by a Gonzalez lawsuit against the election agency. Kidd gave two sworn statements, but they were thrown out as evidence because Weihing cannot cross-examine the deceased woman on her statements. No decision will be issued for weeks on that charge, but the state's prospects look bleak.
The six remaining allegations are the result of an investigation sparked by Barry's complaint. Officials will not say if all six relate to the incidents related in his complaint. Five allegations are that Gonzalez was "knowingly ... present" while absentee ballots were filled out. One is that she violated the law "by taking possession of an absentee ballot."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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