PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Four people have been charged with election fraud in connection with a special election for the 197th District state House seat in North Philadelphia.
Fewer than 3,000 votes were cast in the special election but it has generated more legal action than most general elections. First, a challenge to the Democratic candidate got him thrown off the ballot for not living in the district. His replacement, Emilio Vazquez, had to run a write-in campaign, as did several others, including Green Party candidate Cheri Honkala.
She and Republican Lucinda Little charged poll workers interfered on behalf of Vazquez, who won the race, and filed a federal suit to overturn the results. Now, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and District Attorney Kelly Hodge have filed charges against all the election officials in an entire division.
The 43rd ward, 7th division got just 24 voters for the special election, but the charges allege that the officials interfered with at least five of them. Shapiro says it may not have been enough to turn the election but he hopes the charges send a message.
“We are here to say loud and clear that we have no tolerance for any interference in our election process,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro says workers at the polling place in North Philadelphia became aggressive with a voter and also told another voter that a voting machine was broken, although investigators later found that it had been operational all day.
The four workers, Dolores Shaw, the Judge of Election at poll 43-7, Calvin Mattox, the minority inspector, Thurman George, the machine inspector, and Wallace Hill, a bilingual translator, were all charged with violating state laws that regulate elections, including frauds by election officers, interference with primaries and elections, prohibiting duress and intimidation of voters and interference with the free exercise of elective franchise, tampering with public records, conspiracy, and other offenses.
“The four individuals charged as a result of this joint investigation have betrayed the trust that the citizens of Philadelphia have given them to ensure a free, fair, and unencumbered Election Day,” said Hodge. “I would like to thank the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and the Philadelphia Police Department for making this investigation a success. And to those heading to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 7, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Election Fraud Task Force will continue to monitor what goes on in our polling places, so every vote will count.”
Hodge says she hopes this will help restore voters’ faith.
“That we will take all necessary steps to keep our elections fair,” she said.
For her part, Little was pleased with the charges.
“This is the first step in fighting the corruption that has had a hold on Philadelphia for 50 years now,” Little said.
Honkala predicted it was the tip of the iceberg. She maintains the interference went far beyond one division.
“This is just the beginning,” she said.
Allegations of voter fraud, electioneering and voter intimidation were reported to city and state officials during and after the election. Shapiro says the investigation into the election is active and ongoing.