GOP, Green Party to challenge North Philly special election results

 Linda Kerns is general counsel for the Philadelphia Republican Party, which is planning to file a federal lawsuit to invalidate the results of a recent special election in the 197th legislation district. (Katie Colaneri/WHYY)

Linda Kerns is general counsel for the Philadelphia Republican Party, which is planning to file a federal lawsuit to invalidate the results of a recent special election in the 197th legislation district. (Katie Colaneri/WHYY)

In Philadelphia, the Republican and Green parties want a federal judge to throw out the results of a March 21 special election for a state House seat, alleging the North Philadelphia voting was rife with irregularities.

Democratic write-in candidate Emilio Vazquez received 1,000 votes more than the Green Party’s Cheri Honkala, who also ran a write-in campaign, and Republican Lucinda Little, the only candidate on the ballot that day. 

At a news conference at Philadelphia GOP headquarters Thursday, state and city Republican leaders said they plan to join the Green Party in filing a federal lawsuit to invalidate the election results and ask for a new contest in the 197th District.

“We’re hopeful that once the federal court judge and the federal court system sees what took place, hears the evidence, evaluates the evidence, he’ll be able to go ahead and set aside the results of the 197th so we can have a fair, accurate election result,” said Joel Frank, the Pennsylvania GOP’s general counsel.

Philadelphia GOP general counsel Linda Kerns said the party has evidence — including photos, videos and eyewitness accounts — that poll workers illegally helped voters write in Vazquez.

Gary Grisafi, who was a Republican poll watcher, said he saw a judge of election stop a man who entered a voting booth without one of the rubber stamps the write-in candidates handed out to voters. Grisafi said the judge of election informed the man, “We’re doing a write-in campaign for the Democrats.”

“He ran outside, got a stamp and said, ‘Here’s your stamp,'” Grisafi told reporters. “Now, the other election board member went in with him and did the stamp for him.”

GOP leaders admitted that, like their candidate in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, the federal lawsuit is a long shot, but they hope it calls attention to problems the party has complained about for years.

“Quite honestly, it’s not like there’s a bunch of precedent to go ahead and set it aside. We believe we have the evidence to go ahead and do that,” Frank said. “But, again, our worst-case scenario is bringing it to the attention of everybody so that hopefully this ceases and stops and does not occur in the future.”

In the meantime, the Pennsylvania attorney general and Philadelphia district attorney offices are investigating numerous complaints about last week’s special election. 

“That’s the proper venue, but trying to throw out election results that are this disparate, that is several bridges too far,” said Adam Bonin, an attorney for the Democratic Party.

Bonin said he doubts the lawsuit would change the results, which are expected to be certified by the city commissioners on Monday. Vazquez could be sworn in the same day.  

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