Scandal-Plagued Philly Election Taken to Court

Green Party politico Cheri Honkala and Emilio Vasquez, the Democratic winner of a March 21 special election in North Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Accusing Philadelphia Democrats of intimidating voters at a local election, Pennsylvania’s Green and Republican parties sued Thursday to void the scandal-plagued race’s results.

North Philadelphia held a special election on March 21 to fill a seat in the state Legislature left vacant after the surprise resignation of Leslie Acosta.

A Democrat who represented the state’s 197th district, Acosta was ousted after reports emerged that she had secretly pleaded guilty in March 2016 to a federal felony count, conspiracy to commit money laundering.

In the scramble to hold a special election, a residency challenge scuttled the first nominee put forward by Democrats, Freddie Ramirez.

Because the party missed the filing deadline, they had to undertake a write-in campaign for their next nominee, Emilio Vasquez.

Despite being the lone name on the ballot, Republican candidate Lucinda Little captured just 198 votes.

Vasquez won the race with 1,964 votes. A fellow write-in candidate, the Green Party’s Cheri Honkala, came in second place with 280 votes.

Democrats do outnumber Republicans in the district 17-1, but Vasquez’s opponents are now fighting to have the results thrown out.

Teaming up in the federal complaint with Honkala, Republican Little says Democrats stole the race and that city officials let them get away with it.

Laying out dozens acts of misconduct, the 29-page complaint says that election board workers, “virtually all of whom are registered Democrats,” were directing voters at the polls to cast their ballots for Vasquez.

“Voters were threatened or intimidated if it was thought they were going to vote for any other candidate,” the complaint states.

Little and Honkala say they also have video of money changing hands at one polling place between the son of a Democratic ward leader and other Democratic officials.

In another video described in the complaint, Democratic party workers can be seen telling an elderly Latino woman that she must vote for Vasquez.

Accusing Democrats of illegal tampering, Little and Honkala say that the pink ballot sheets prepared by city commissioners with taxpayer money “were doctored … to specifically instruct workers to write in Mr. Vasquez’s name.”

The complaint also accuses poll and committee workers of handing out Vasquez literature well within the 10-foot buffer zone; taking a Honkala stamp out of one voter’s hands and giving her a Vasquez stamp; and offering misinformation about the election.

“An elderly Latina woman reported on video that she was afraid for her safety and that she and other senior citizens were intimidated into voting for Vasquez,” the complaint states.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office launched an investigation of the election on March 24, having reportedly received at least two dozen phone complaints.

That office meanwhile is grappling with its own scandal. As votes were being tallied on March 21, federal prosecutors unsealed a bribery and fraud indictment against District Attorney R. Seth Williams.

Williams has pleaded not guilty but his law license has been suspended. The office is currently being headed by First Assistant DA Kathleen Martin.

Philadelphia Magazine quoted Vasquez as appearing to blame President Donald Trump for the chaos.

“It is clear that Republicans are taking plays from the Trump playbook, making up their own set of facts, and then crying ‘voter fraud’ when they don’t get what they want,” he said.

Honkala and the Green Party are represented by West Chester attorney Samuel Stretton. Little and the local Republicans are represented by Linda Kerns. At the state level, the Republicans are represented by another West Chester attorney, Joel Frank.

None of the attorneys have returned calls requesting comment, nor have officials for the state and local Democratic Committee.

The voicemail greeting at Honkala’s office says she is “completely off the grid” until April 10.

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