Democrats win tough Pa. House election, but investigation looms

     Philadelphia City Commissioners (from left) Anthony Clark, Lisa Deeley, and Al Schmidt, review write-in votes from the 197th legislative district special election in which more than 90 percent of the votes were write-ins. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Philadelphia City Commissioners (from left) Anthony Clark, Lisa Deeley, and Al Schmidt, review write-in votes from the 197th legislative district special election in which more than 90 percent of the votes were write-ins. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    The strange special election for a vacant North Philadelphia seat in the Statehouse is staggering to a messy conclusion, with the vote count giving Democrats a lop-sided win, and the District Attorney’s Election Fraud Task Force launching an investigation into alleged irregularities.

    A court fight left Republican Lucinda Little as the only candidate on the ballot Tuesday, with the other hopefuls having to try and win as write-in candidates.The city election board did its tabulation Friday, announcing the following results:

    Democrat Emilio Vasquez – 1,964 √ Green Party candidate Cheri Honkala – 280 votesRepublican Lucinda Little – 198 votes.

    Tough town to run in

    The 197th district has more than its share of alleged dirty politicking in most elections, but this one was sure be contentious.

    Waging a serious write-in campaign involves getting hundreds of rubber stamps printed with your candidate’s name on them, and putting hundreds of field workers at polling places to instruct voters on how to execute a write-in on voting machines.

    It’s bound to get squirrelly.

    “Some of the things we saw on election day were electioneering within the polling place, some illegal voter assistance issues, and some people writing on those big pink ballots outside polling places,” said Cameron Kline, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s office.

    The office is encouraging anyone who might have evidence of illegal activity to contact the Election Fraud Task Force at 215-686-9641.

    Honkala, the Green Party candidate, said she saw that kind of improper activity and heard about plenty more, including voters being intimidated and cash changing hands.

    The Green Party’s attorney, Sam Stretton, said in a letter to the City Commissioners, which runs elections in Philadelphia, that it would be filing a federal lawsuit.

    “The fraud is of such massive proportions that I am going to be seeking in federal court to void this election and to hold those accountable for their gross misconduct in undermining our democracy,” Stretton wrote.

    The other side

    Adam Bonin, an attorney for the Democratic Party, said several issues were raised in election court Tuesday, including the fact that much of Honkala’s election materials didn’t have the required attribution saying who’d paid for them.He said the court ordered that fixed and a halt to any illegal electioneering around mid-day, and he heard nothing more about it.

    Bonin said he couldn’t comment on the Green Party’s threatened lawsuit since it hasn’t been filed, but he recalled that the national Green Party went to court after the presidential election, too.

    “You know, unfortunately this is a regular tactic of the Green Party when the results don’t go their way,” Bonin said. “We saw this in November. Raising allegation of fraud, or hacking, or some kind of misconduct is a great way to raise money, when you don’t have facts to back it up, it doesn’t go anywhere in the courts.”

    On Wednesday, Republicans called attention to the same alleged irregularities, and called for an investigation by the state attorney general.

    The election results aren’t yet official, and won’t be until the end of next week.Candidates can inspect the write-in votes and other materials over the weekend, and on Monday the election board will meet announce an official “computation” of the results, according to Deputy Commissioner Fred Voigt.

    Unless a court intervenes, the results will be certified five days after that, and Vasquez can be sworn into office.

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