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Republicans call for investigation of 197th special election

HARRISBURG -- State House Republicans are calling for the Attorney General's Office to investigate allegations of illegal activity during Tuesday's special election for the 197th Legislative District in Philadelphia.

"Starting at 7 o'clock in the morning and moving on throughout the day, party veterans, volunteers, and people who have been through many, many elections were alarmed at the tactics that were going on at a good portion of the polling places in that district," State Rep. John Taylor (R., Philadelphia) said at a Capitol news conference Wednesday. He added that there are photos that show "pink sheets" -- sample ballots at polling places -- were marked with instructions about how to write in a vote.

Republican Lucinda Little, the only candidate on the ballot, tallied less than 8 percent of the votes, or a total of 198 votes, in the heavily Democratic district. The rest of the votes (2,483) went to write-in candidates, including Democrat Emilio Vazquez and the Green Party's Cheri Honkala.

Little and Honkala both said Wednesday that they have proof of electioneering and other illegal activity that occurred Tuesday. Vazquez did not return request for comment.

"Absolutely there was fraud. I have video, I have pictures," Little said. "I was the only one with an actual name on the [ballot] but … they told people they had to write-in all candidates."

"I had a woman -- an elderly woman -- who is afraid of her well-being, who was forced to vote for Emilio," Honkala said. "At the Welsh School, she said she needed assistance and she said the person inside used an Emilio stamp."

Both the Honkala and Vazquez campaigns had premade stamps with their names that voters could take into the voting booth and place in the write-in section. The stamps were only to be given out by the campaigns outside of the polling locations and not inside.

City Commissioner Al Schmidt, the only Republican on the three-person Board of City Commissioners that oversees elections, said that his office received many complaints throughout the day about the use of stamps and of illegal voter assistance.

"Almost every single complaint revolved around those two accusations," Schmidt said about illegal voter assistance and electioneering inside polling place. "Anyone who was out in the field saw examples of both."

Schmidt said he went out to 40 of the 75 voting divisions within the 197th District. He often saw more than two people inside a booth. (If people request assistance, one person is allowed with that voter inside the booth, but not more than that.)

"Illegal voter assistance that really stood out to me yesterday," Schmidt said. Once the votes are counted and "the dust settles" from the election, Schmidt said his office could subpoena election board workers and later refer potential voter fraud cases to the District Attorney's Office.

Commissioner Lisa Deeley, a Democrat, said that her office didn't receive many complaints but that those that did come in were referred to the District Attorney's Office.

The District Attorney's Office received about two dozen calls Tuesday with complaints about possible election fraud, said office spokesman Cameron Kline. The office has several investigators go out to various polling locations.

"We did engage and speak to people," Kline said. However, he said he couldn't comment on whether there would be any criminal charges.

Kline said that if the Attorney General's Office wants to investigate the 197th special election that his office would "support" the investigation. "We're always happy to help."

Joe Grace, spokesman for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, said Wednesday: "The Office of Attorney General has been made aware of the allegations and takes seriously the office's responsibility to enforce election law."

In calling for Shapiro, a Democrat, to investigate, state House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana) acknowledged that the legislative district has a low proportion of Republican voters.

"We're under no pretense that we were going to win a special election with 5 percent registered Republicans," Reed said. "But it does beg the question, if this sort of corruption occurs in a special election with only 5 percent of Republicans registered within that district, what occurs in more competitive elections throughout other polling places throughout the city and throughout the commonwealth?"

The Board of Election officials will conduct a vote count of all write-in candidates Friday.