Two losing Pa. House candidates ask court for new election

 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)

Two losing candidates in a special election to for Pennsylvania State Representative seat in the 197th  District argued in federal court Thursday that the results should be tossed. 

In their lawsuit, Republican candidate Lucinda Little and Green Party candidate Cheri Honkala blamed officials that had a role in administering the special election in March.

“We have alleged pervasive fraud, serious constitutional violations under the 1st and 14th amendments and we have asked for a new election,” said Honkala’s attorney Sam Stretton. 

In a packed federal courtroom, the defense included representatives from ward leaders, City Commissioners, the City Committee, Speaker of the Pennsylvania House, and the Pennsylvania Department of State who defended their role in supervising the election’s fairness.

Their primary argument was that the allegations are not a federal issue — and should be decided state court. Adam Bonin represents Democrat Emilio Vasquez, the 197th  District’s current Representative.

“At most what they say is that the government didn’t stop bad things from happening during election day. Even if everything they said was true, it still wouldn’t take us to this court,” said Bonin 

Little and Honkala allege that ward leaders and election board officials, under the eye of the city and state government, intimidated voters in North Philly’s 197th District — which includes parts of Feltonville, Hunting Park, and Norris Square.

Yane Indigo worked as one of Honkala’s campaign managers. “It’s about the right to vote being protected, regardless of who the winner is, regardless of what party you’re in,” she said. 

 The district judge will decide whether to go to trial in the next 30 to 60 days. If successful, the suit would require a new election.

The special election was called after former Democratic state Rep. Leslie Acosta was indicted on felony charges, and left office within six months of the next election.

Little, the Republican, was the only candidate on the ballot — Vasquez and Honkala both ran write-in campaigns. Vasquez, the Democrat, won by a substantial margin with 1,970 votes. The same day Vasquez was declared the winner, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced an investigation into the election. 

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