Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

The 197th District has an unofficial winner, and an official investigation

The contentious and controversial special election for the 197th District of the state House has an unofficial winner — Democrat Emilio Vazquez.

It also has an official investigation by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office into allegations of voter fraud during Tuesday's election.

Staffers from the city's Board of Elections spent Friday morning methodically combing through long reams of narrow paper tapes, calling out the votes for write-in candidates such as Vazquez.

The count showed Vazquez winning with 73.5 percent of the vote. Green Party nominee Cheri Honkala, who like Vazquez was kept off the ballot by a Commonwealth Court judge's ruling, finished second with 10.5 percent. Other write-in candidates took a combined 8.6 percent.

And Lucinda Little, the Republican nominee and the only candidate who had her name printed on the ballot, took 7.4 percent.

In an uncommon showing, more than nine out of every 10 votes in the election was a write-in.

The city commissioners will wait five days to certify the results, allowing time for legal challenges that are almost certain to come.

The District Attorney's Office on Friday announced that its Election Fraud Task Force had opened an investigation and asked for "any video, photographic, or eyewitness accounts of fraud at the polls" to be sent to or called in to 215-686-8724.

"On Election Day, the Task Force received approximately 50 calls to its hotline and responded to several dozen allegations of illegal activity at polling places across the 197th," the District Attorney's Office said in a statement. "Some of the issues the Task Force is investigating include the use and placement of candidate write-in stamps, electioneering inside the polling place, illegal voter assistance, and individuals writing on posted sample ballots."

Republicans in the state House on Wednesday called for state Attorney General Josh Shapiro to investigate the election.

Attorneys for Little and Honkala wrote to the commissioners Thursday, saying they plan to challenge the election results in federal court.

Both camps alleged the election was marred by fraud, with voters being intimidated or misled by illegal electioneering at the polling places.

Vazquez, in a statement released after the unofficial tally was released, tried to cast the result as the final chapter in the election.

"The voters of the 197th District have spoken and they have decisively chosen hope over the politics of division and fear," wrote Vazquez, who heads the 43rd Ward and is on leave from a job at the Philadelphia Parking Authority. "In these troubling times for our country and our Commonwealth, it is important that people see they can still stand up and be counted."

Honkala, an antipoverty activist, was the only candidate who appeared at the vote tally Friday.  She sat in the audience as staffers called out each write-in vote, Vazquez's name being repeated over and over.

"I go to the post office, I go anywhere in the neighborhood," Honkala said of the North Philadelphia district. "People say, 'Cheri, we know the real deal. We know what happened that day.' "

Eight-five percent of the voters in the district are registered Democrats while 5 percent are Republicans and 10 percent are independents or belong to smaller political parties.

The seat is vacant because Leslie Acosta, a Democrat, resigned from the House Jan. 3 after pleading guilty last year to a felony embezzlement charge related to a job she held before she was elected in 2014. That year, she defeated former State Rep. Jose "J.P." Miranda, who was awaiting trial on a felony charge of funneling state money from a ghost employee to his sister. Miranda pleaded guilty to a felony in 2015.