Republican state legislators have asked Attorney General Josh Shapiro to investigate irregularities at polling places during Tuesday’s bizarre special election in North Philadelphia, alleging rampant misuse of voter assistance as well as problems with ink stamps used for write-in ballots.
After one of her opponents missed a filing deadline and the other was removed by court order for failing to meet a residency requirement, Republican Lucinda Little was the only candidate to appear on the ballot for the special election to replace convicted former Rep. Leslie Acosta. Despite that seemingly insurmountable advantage, Little finished the day with just over 7 percent of residents – 198 votes – choosing her.
Write-in votes comprised 92.5 percent of the total, or 2,483 votes. The lion’s share of those votes are likely for Democrat Emilio Vazquez and Green Party candidate Cheri Honkala, but the City Commissioners' office will not conclude its final tally of the paper ballot slips until Friday, a staffer said.
In a district where only 5 percent of registered voters are Republicans, there’s no evidence to suggest Little was in some way robbed of the election, a fact that Republican Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) clarified Wednesday during a press conference at the Capitol Rotunda.
“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 … what occurs in more competitive elections throughout the commonwealth?”
Reed and other GOP legislators – including Reps. Martina White and John Taylor from Northeast Philadelphia – showed pictures of doctored “pink sheets,” the official sample ballot election documents which are located outside of polling stations on election day. Images circulated Tuesday of pink sheets that had been altered to illustrate how write-in ballots were to be completed.
Other allegations included misuse of the ink stamps supplied by Green and Democratic parties to facilitate the write-in process.
Such complaints abounded outside the polling station at Bethune Mary McLeod School in North Philadelphia on Tuesday.
“The biggest problem we’ve seen has been with the stamps and the voter assists,” Aldridk Gessa-Lang, a poll watcher for the Republican party who was stationed outside the school all day, told a reporter.
Rita Cain, a volunteer with Honkala’s campaign, said she reported problems to both the district attorney’s office and the city commissioners' office several times throughout the day, mostly relating to issues with the stamps. Cain said that several voters had their Honkala stamps removed by poll workers. Both she and Lang also said they witnessed poll workers escorting a disconcerting number of voters into the voting booth.
Workers from the Democratic party sat opposite the Honkala camp at Bethune, handing out variously sized ink stamps for Vazquez from a mailing envelope. Asked about the allegations, the group scoffed.
“They’re full of shit,” said a longtime Democratic Party worker at Bethune, who would not give her name. “They have been starting trouble all day. We’ve never had all this negative stuff before.”
City Commissioner Al Schmidt, as well as representatives from the District Attorney’s Election Task Force, visited Bethune throughout the day to address complaints.
In light of District Attorney Seth Williams’ 23-count indictment yesterday, Reed is asking Shapiro’s office to lead the investigation.
This is a developing story.
Max Marin is a staff writer at Philadelphia Weekly, where this article first appeared.