Could phony ballot get Philly Ethics Board attention?

    Some phony sample ballots supporting Republican City Councilman David Oh in a close re-election battle were confiscated on Election Day, and could get scrutiny from the city Ethics Board.

    Take a look at the sample ballot (above) handed out in Mt. Airy and Germantown.

    It says “Official Democratic Ballot” across the top. But at the bottom you’ll see two Democratic candidates for Council-at-large (Helen Gym and Allan Domb) are omitted, and instead it recommends Oh, the Republican.

    Spoiler alert: This is not a genuine Democratic ballot.

    Oh was looking for Democratic votes in his re-election battle. He needed to finish among the top two GOP candidates to keep one of the two Council at-large seats reserved for minority parties.

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    Oh won a razor-thin victory, getting 34,405 votes, just 571 ahead of incumbent Denny O’Brien in the unofficial tally. In between them was challenger Al Taubenberger, who grabbed second place.

    The sample ballot, handed out at an unknown number of polling places, appears to be a deceptive attempt to get Democratic votes for Oh.

    Oh told me on Election Day he had nothing to do with the ballot.

    “I don’t know anything about it,” he said, adding that there are often strange ballots around on Election Day, and he saw others Nov. 3.

    Supporters of Gym were onto the ballot early. Democratic City Committee attorney Steve Kaplan took it to court, and, by midmorning, election Judge Jonathan Irvine ordered it confiscated.

    It’s the kind of Election Day high-jinks that have popped up in Philadelphia for years, and they’re usually forgotten afterward.

    This time, maybe not.

    Somebody did it

    The city Ethics Board doesn’t generally regulate the content of political messages, but it does scrutinize campaign finance reports to make sure people who spend money in elections disclose what they’re up to.

    And if somebody puts out questionable material and doesn’t disclose it, the Ethics Board can inflict pain. I’ve seen it.

    Go back to the 2007 mayoral election when a couple of anonymous fliers trashed Michael Nutter, one of them with a racial appeal. The board investigated and eventually got Electricians Local 98 to admit its consultants were responsible for fliers. The union paid a hefty fine.

    Look at the ballot above, and you’ll see a little marker on the bottom indicating it was produced by a union printer. That “union bug,” as it’s called, indicates which printer did the job.

    If the Ethics Board gets a subpoena and shows up at the printer, they’ll check their records and tell investigators who ordered the ballots and paid for them. That’s a pretty good string to pull. It’s exactly how the 2007 Local 98 investigation began.

    Not the bank

    Deceptive fliers often say nothing about their sponsors, but the ballot above says it was paid for by the “P.N.C PAC.”

    I found no such committee in city records. A PNC PAC is registered in Harrisburg, but it’s the political committee for PNC bank. Representatives were pretty amused when I asked if they’d paid for ballots to be distributed in two Philadelphia wards. No, not us, they said.

    Ethics Board officials won’t say whether they’re looking into the ballot. They don’t talk about investigations.

    If they do get to the bottom of it, the likely result is a fine for someone. It won’t affect the outcome of the election.

    But just for fun, I checked results in the two wards where the phony ballot was on the street through the morning voting rush. Oh beat O’Brien by a combined 505 votes in those two wards (the 22nd and 59th), and he did better there on a percentage basis than he did in two other wards in the Northwest, the 9th and 21st. The numbers are listed below.

    It bears noting that a lot of things affect votes in individual wards, and I don’t know whether the ballot was distributed elsewhere in the city. If you do, feel free to get in touch.

                 Republican Council-at-large ward results

    Candidate 22nd ward 59th ward 9th ward 21st ward
    Oh 597 321 767 2109
    O’Brien 265 148 588 2092

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