Democrat’s write-in victory for Pa. House challenged in court

 State Rep. Emilio Vazquez won his seat as a write-in candidate last month.(Dave Davies/WHYY)

State Rep. Emilio Vazquez won his seat as a write-in candidate last month.(Dave Davies/WHYY)

Lawyers for the Green Party and the Republican Party (yes, you read that right) are joining in a lawsuit asking a federal judge to throw out the results of a special Pennsylvania House election in a North Philadelphia district last month.

The suit says the election, won overwhelmingly by Democrat Emilio Vasquez, was marked by widespread voter intimidation and election tampering.

“I’ve been practicing election law in Philadelphia for 12 years,” GOP attorney Linda Kerns said. “And what happened that day is the worst case of election code violations in Philadelphia history, and I think that’s saying a lot.”

It was a strange election in which the only candidate on the ballot in the overwhelmingly Democratic district was Republican Lucinda Little, because the initial Democratic candidate was knocked off the ballot when a judge concluded he didn’t live in the district.

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That left the Democrats waging a write-in campaign for their new candidate, Vasquez, just as Green Party workers were asking voters to write in their candidate, Cheri Honkala.

It meant a lot of people were trying to explain to voters how to cast write-in votes on machines, and giving them rubber stamps to take into voting booths with their candidates’ names on them. It was bound to get hinky on Election Day.

The suit cites about 20 specific instances in which Democratic street workers — and sometimes local election officials — allegedly intimidated voters, campaigned within polling places, or committed other election code violations.

The complaint doesn’t cite names of the offending parties, but Kerns said more detail will emerge in court.

“You’re going to hear at our hearing how some voters didn’t necessarily want to vote for Emilio, or didn’t necessarily want to write someone in, and were told by election board workers, ‘Well, that’s not going to happen on my machine. On my machine, you’re going to vote for Emilio Vasquez.'”

The complaint says there’s video of some incidents, including a woman saying she felt threatened, and the son of an unnamed ward leader exchanging money with other Democratic officials inside a polling place.

Named as defendants in the suit are Vasquez, the city Democratic Party, state and city election officials, who the plaintiffs say failed to ensure a fair election.

City election board co-chairman Al Schmidt said he can’t comment on the litigation.

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, city Democratic Party chairman, said Democrats saw things that looked funny to them on Election Day, too.

“Our committeepeople and ward leaders have affidavits and documentation that some of the opposition went behind the machines also and were helping voters or whatever, but we didn’t have to file anything,” Brady said. “We’re not sore winners. I mean, it’s like, 2,000 to 200? I mean, come on.”

The actual count was 1,972 for Vasquez, 286 for Green Party candidate Honkala, and 201 for the Republican, Little.

Vasquez’s attorney, Adam Bonin, said the suit is coming too late, and the vote is so lopsided that if there was any impropriety it can’t possibly affect the outcome.

And, Bonin said, the suit doesn’t have a lot of evidence.

“What they have is a series of scattered allegations — oh, this person was told this thing, and our observer swears they saw that thing — very rarely tied to names and locations,” he said.

Vasquez has already been sworn in.

Besides the civil case filed Thursday, the state attorney general’s office and the election fraud task force of the Philadelphia district attorney’s office are also investigating.

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