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City, state GOP to join lawsuit challenging special election results

The city and state Republican Parties will join a Green Party candidate in a federal lawsuit challenging the results of a special election in North Philadelphia, party officials announced Thursday.

The March 21 special election for state representative in the 197th District is already under investigation by the district attorney's Voter Fraud Task Force. Attorney General Josh Shapiro said this week that his office would work with the DA on its probe, after complaints of widespread voter fraud.

Democratic write-in candidate Emilio Vazquez won the election, beating Green Party write-in candidate Cheri Honkala and Republican Lucinda Little, the lone candidate with her name on the ballot. The election fills the seat vacated by Rep. Leslie Acosta, who resigned after it was revealed that she had secretly pleaded guilty to a federal felony in 2015.

Joseph DeFelice, chairman of the city's Republican Party, and state GOP chair Val DiGiorgio held a news conference to announce the joint lawsuit. (Honkala said March 23 that her campaign would sue.) DeFelice said the party is suing not because he thinks Little might have won in the heavily Democratic district, but because the violations were so rampant that those responsible should face fines and, if applicable, criminal charges. The ultimate goal is to have the results invalidated, DiGiorgio said.

"I'm a Republican in Philadelphia, I'm used to losing," DeFelice said. "I just want to lose fairly."

Accusations include illegal voter assistance, specifically poll workers handing out Vazquez stamps.

GOP leaders said they have signed affidavits from poll workers as well as photo and video evidence of poll workers entering voting booths. The city GOP Twitter feed includes photos that the party argues show doctored "pink slips," the ballot sample sheets that are posted for voters outside the polls.

Little received 198 votes, or 7.4 percent of the 2,681 ballots cast.  Vazquez won 1,970 votes, while Honkala received 282. Only 5 percent of registered voters turned out. Democrats make up 85 percent of those registered in the district.

Linda Kerns, attorney for the GOP city committee, said the alleged fraud should bother people who live beyond the borders of the 197th, which includes parts of Feltonville, Hunting Park, North Square, Fairhill, and Glenwood.

"What happened in this special election in the 197th should have every Democrat in the city from [Democratic Party Chairman] Bob Brady on down hanging their heads in shame," Kerns said. "This was an election they could have won just by following the rules. ... They cheated their way through this entire day with absolute impunity."

Congressman Brady, contacted Thursday, fired back.

"I think the Republican Party should hang their head in shame. A Green Party candidate -- as a write-in -- even beat them -- that's a disgrace," Brady said. "The only chance they got is to say we cheated."

Brady called the accusations of fraud false. "I'm understanding that our ward leaders who were out there have as much proof of them going behind the machines as anyone else."

Kerns said the lawsuit will be filed by early next week.