GOP ward leaders voted to oust one of their own Saturday, hours after an Inquirer story highlighted his role in diverting dozens of mail ballots for Republican voters in South Philadelphia to a P.O. box under his control, raising concerns of a potential “ballot harvesting” scheme.
Up until Saturday, Billy Lanzilotti, 23, had led the 39th Ward — a section of deep South Philadelphia, east of Broad Street and south of Mifflin Street.
Most of the mail ballots that he had sent to a P.O. box registered to his Republican Registration Coalition PAC were for voters in the neighboring 26th Ward, where he was also seeking to become ward leader under Republican City Committee rules that allow members to hold that position in multiple wards at a time.
But many of the affected voters told The Inquirer they had no idea why their ballots were being sent to Lanzilotti instead of their home addresses. Some maintained they had never even applied to vote by mail.
On Saturday, Lanzilotti’s fellow GOP ward leaders described the situation as troubling at a time when Republican lawmakers and candidates have attacked mail voting and falsely portrayed it as rife with abuse by their Democrat rivals.
“The Philly GOP takes any allegations of election improprieties very seriously regardless of political party,” said Martina White, chairperson of the Republican City Committee.
Matt Wolfe, a ward leader from West Philadelphia, described the vote to remove Lanzilotti from his post — held during a meeting at the United Republican Club in Kensington — as overwhelming. It also precludes Lanzilotti from holding any Republican Party office in the city in the future.
“There was nobody in that room that was not angry and upset about this,” Wolfe said. “This was very upsetting to everyone who cares about the Republican Party in Philadelphia.”
Lanzilotti declined to comment on the decision Saturday. But he said he had not attended the meeting and had no idea that his fellow ward leaders had voted to remove him.
“I have nothing to say,” he said.
His ouster capped a whirlwind 24 hours for the Republican leader, who, in addition to serving as a ward leader, had previously served as chairman of the Philadelphia Young Republicans and held paid positions on high-profile campaigns.
He had worked for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign in Pennsylvania in 2020, according to campaign finance filings. He had also been paid more than $7,000 by the reelection campaign for U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Bucks) between January and March of this year — a job Lanzilotti touted in an interview with The Inquirer last week.
Contacted Friday to discuss Lanzilotti’s role in the South Philadelphia ballot issue, Fitzpatrick staffers described him as a paid intern who was no longer affiliated with the campaign.
Lanzilotti maintained he had not been fired but had left the campaign to pursue “a better opportunity” in the two days since he first spoke to The Inquirer about the issue with the South Philadelphia mail ballots.
As Lanzilotti described it, he was only trying to “help pump out the Republican voter turnout.”
Under the auspices of his Republican Registration Coalition PAC — formed earlier this year and funded by $6,500 in donations from an influential PAC controlled by GOP power broker Bob Asher — Lanzilotti and others working with him began going door-to-door in South Philadelphia earlier this month to sign up registered GOP voters to vote by mail in the May 17 primary.
He said he put his P.O. box on their ballot applications instead of their home addresses as a “convenience to the voter,” so they could have their ballots hand-delivered to them by someone they trusted.
But The Inquirer spoke to 12 of the 39 voters whose applications requested their mail ballots be sent to Lanzilotti. Only two said they knowingly filled out a ballot application with the understanding it would be sent to him instead of their home address.
The others said that they either did not know who Lanzilotti was or that they had no idea they were filling out an application to vote by mail when he showed up at their doorstep.
All but one said they had not received their ballots.
Prompted by The Inquirer’s findings, the Philadelphia City Commissioners Office, which oversees elections, began contacting affected voters earlier in the week and offering to set aside their ballots or divert them to their home address.
It’s unclear whether Lanzilotti’s behavior crosses legal lines.
It is legal for voters to have ballots sent to an address other than their homes. But lawyers for both parties described having them sent to a P.O. box registered to a PAC concerning — especially given the confusion expressed by many of the voters who said they did not realize what they were signing at the time.
Lanzilotti acknowledged filling out portions of the applications for the voters — including the address where the ballot should be sent. But none of the submitted applications had the required signatures acknowledging that someone other than the voter had helped fill out the form.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is aware of the situation, spokesperson Jane Roh said.
Despite the vote to oust Lanzilotti on Saturday, Wolfe, the West Philadelphia ward leader, described him as a “hardworking guy” and cited his young age and inexperience.
“He’s ambitious,” Wolfe said. “But he certainly appears to have made some serious mistakes here.”