A Connecticut Democrat has been charged with multiple counts of voter fraud after allegedly stealing the identities of numerous tenants in his building to boost his run for city council.
Bridgeport city councilman Michael DeFilippo was charged with one count of conspiracy against rights, four counts of identity theft, and 11 counts of fraudulent registration for a scheme that helped him win his spot on the city council.
"The right to vote and have one’s vote counted in a fair and impartial election is the foundation of our democracy," acting U.S. attorney Leonard C. Boyle said in a statement. "This defendant violated that right to help himself win election to the Bridgeport City Council, including by stealing ballots and forging signatures."
The indictment comes as lawmakers engage in political battles over election reform nationwide. Democrats have attacked concerns over voter fraud as conspiratorial and denounce efforts aimed at increasing election integrity as racist forms of voter suppression. The Biden administration has filed a lawsuit to prevent Georgia from enacting an anti-voter fraud bill in the wake of the 2020 election, while Texas state lawmakers fled to Washington, D.C., in an effort to block ballot-integrity measures.
Federal officials accused DeFilippo of conspiring to "injure and oppress voters in the free exercise and enjoyment of the right ... to vote" in the 2017 Bridgeport city council election. He used his status as a landlord to steal voter registrations and absentee ballots from the college students living on his property. He then forged their signatures in order to vote for himself, according to the indictment. Democratic Party officials were forced to hold multiple primaries in the election because of clear "absentee voting irregularities."
DeFilippo, who did not return a request for comment, told local party officials on Monday that he would not seek reelection—just two days before he pleaded not guilty in a federal courthouse. He faces up to 85 years in prison for the charges.
Voting reform advocates said the city councilman's case demonstrates the need for more secure ballots. Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project, called the allegations "shocking." The simplicity of DeFilippo's alleged scheme, he said, shows how easy it is for activists and candidates to bypass the protection measures of many states.
"As long as elections are the path to power, there will be people willing to cheat to win," Snead said. "The allegations in this case are shocking, and plainly show how vulnerable absentee ballots can be to fraud and why securing them is so crucial.... Election fraud disenfranchises voters, casts doubt on elections, and makes voters less likely to participate in democracy."
DeFilippo was released Wednesday on a $250,000 bond.