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Controversial 197th District special election heading to federal court?

Tuesday's controversial special election to fill the state House's 197th District seat may be moving from the polling place to federal court, as Philadelphia's City Commissioners prepare to start tallying the votes Friday morning.

Lawyers for Republican nominee Lucinda Little, the only candidate who was listed on the ballot, and Green Party nominee Cheri Honkala, who waged a write-in campaign, sent letters to the Commissioners Thursday, demanding that they seal and preserve the ballots.

Both camps alleged widespread voter fraud in the North Philadelphia district.

Little won just 198 votes, which was 7.4 percent of the 2,681 ballots cast.  In an unusual development, 2,483 write-in votes were cast.

Democratic nominee Emilio Vazquez, like Honkala, was kept off the ballot by a Commonwealth Court judge.  He ran a write-in campaign.

Several others in the district also talked about running as write-in candidates.

Samuel Stretton, Honkala's lawyer, wrote to the commissioners about "allegations of massive fraud and misconduct," including voters being intimidated or misled, electioneering in polling places and mishandling of ballots after they were cast.

"The fraud is of such massive proportions that I am going to be seeking in federal court to void this election and to hold those accountable for their gross misconduct in undermining our democracy," Stretton wrote.

Linda Kerns, Little's lawyer, wrote about "many incidents of blatant and pervasive violations" of the state Election code, citing many of the same issues.

State House Republicans on Wednesday called on state Attorney General Josh Shapiro to investigate the allegations, also citing claims of voter fraud and intimidation, electioneering and other misconduct.

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office reported receiving about two dozen calls about alleged fraud during Tuesday's election.

Vazquez, in a statement, accused the Green Party of trying to "get attention and fund-raise off" the controversy. And he called Republican complaints "yet another shameful example" of attempting to "thwart the will of the voters."

"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," Vazquez said.

Democrats make up 85 percent of the registered voters in the district, while Republicans are 5 percent and 10 percent are independents or smaller political parties.

The seat was vacant because former state Rep. Leslie Acosta, a Democrat, resigned on Jan. 3 after pleading guilty last year to a felony embezzlement charge.

The commissioners are due to start counting the ballots Friday at 9 a.m.