The Wikipedia page for Members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives still shows the seat for District 197 as VACANT after Tuesday's special election. This is not because the editor of that page has yet to update it. It's because we still don't know the winner. Under normal circumstances, a winner would have been announced Friday. These circumstances are anything but normal.
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.
UPDATE: The semi-official vote count can be found here on the Pennsylvania Department of State website, but Cheri Honkala's Wikipedia page has been updated to show Democrat Emilio Vazquez as the winner by a big margin. The Wiki update is not sourced; the numbers it reports are different from those in Chris Brennan's Inquirer article posted this morning. Philadelphia's ABC affiliate has declared Vazquez the winner without including a vote count or citing an source. Before the election, 6ABC also listed Vazquez as a write-in candidate in its television and Internet coverage, but did not list Honkala.
The political scene in Pennsylvania can be described many ways, but "boring" is not one of them, especially in recent months. It was one of the three states where Jill Stein pushed for a recount after last November's election. That recount effort was stymied by a combination of nonsense legislation, bait & switch fee structures, local governments' ineptitude, and a bunch of Republican goons—oops, I mean operatives—threatening legal action in multiple courts.
Now Stein's 2012 running mate Cheri Honkala, a legendary advocate for the poor and homeless, is embroiled in her own legal scrap after the special election in Pennsylvania's House District 197. Honkala has, as the song says, been to jail for justice. She was held incommunicado in handcuffs with Stein when they tried to attend a presidential debate in 2012. Civil court should be less painful for her, at least physically.
From the same Philadelphia Inquirer story quoted above:
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.
Democratic nominee Emilio Vazquez, hoping to succeed two consecutive Democratic reps who had to step down under corruption charges, has accused Honkala of showboating, grandstanding, and other behaviors of which she is known to be capable. I have no doubt that Honkala would and could kick up a major fuss to draw media attention to her campaign, or as a tool for fundraising. I find it very hard to believe that she, even with all her community organizing skills, would or could orchestrate the symphony of false accusations that arose on Tuesday. She and the Greens have nothing to gain, in the long term, by making stuff up. Historically, the Democratic Party machine in Philadelphia has proven itself quite capable of the illegal electioneering and voter harassment that the lawsuit alleges.
To read Cheri's Twitter page in recent days is to dive into a world of campaign chicanery you thought happened only in fiction. If even half the allegations of electoral misconduct on Vazquez's behalf are true, it shows a level of Democratic chutzpah that I find difficult to fathom. I have witnessed similar partisan activity here in Houston, but nothing that I would characterize as blatantly illegal, nothing that involves brazen intimidation of voters (not to say that such doesn't happen, or that Republicans haven't done the same).
As of now, there is no way of predicting when this issue will be resolved, or who will be declared the winner. Honkala still has a good chance of pulling this one out and becoming the first Green in Pennsylvania's state legislature. The ballots will likely stay sealed until the court disposes of the case. For a while, the Kensington neighborhood in North Philly will not have a representative in Harrisburg.
As things stand, regardless of the outcome a write-candidate will emerge victorious in the vote count. But don't discount the possibility of a judge finding both Vazquez and Honkala in violation of some statute and awarding the race to Republican Lucinda Little—in a district where 5% of the voters are registered Republican, and where she received just 7.4% of the vote. That's how weird this whole picture is.
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