“Write-In or Wrong-In?” Did Electioneering Steal a State Rep Seat?
The race to fill Leslie Acosta’s seat in the 197th district has been a circus since she resigned in disgrace after receiving a felony corruption conviction this past January. Cheri Honkala (G) has been running an aggressive write-in campaign to directly challenge the democratic write-in candidate Emilio Vasquez, who has also been aggressively campaigning in the district. Yesterday proved to be another controversial day for Honkala who has faced an uphill battle since missing a filing deadline that would have put her on the official ticket.
This highly contentious race was expected to draw some emotion from people on both sides as they headed to the polls to cast their vote. According to representatives from Honkala’s campaign, improper procedures at the polling place and issues of voter intimidation were reported almost as soon as the polls opened. Even Honkala herself had trouble voting at her local polling place. Honkala issued the following statement in a press release.
“It took me over an hour to vote myself this morning.” said Honkala, a Green Party member who is running as a write-in candidate for Pennsylvania State Representative in the 197th district’s special election. “First, the machines weren’t turned on. I’ve personally seen a Democratic Ward Leader repeatedly going in and out of the polling place, touching the machines, and God knows what else.”
The press release also highlights many instances of questionable to dubious behavior involving members allegedly representing certain candidates. Some of the complaints from Green Party poll workers included:
“At Munoz Marin School, a table was set up right next to the voting machine, covered with literature for Democratic candidate Emilio Vazquez, with voters being told that the table has ‘what they need to vote.’”
“At the Pan American Clinic, a Democratic Committeeman is handing out partisan materials inside the doorway to the polling place, not 10 feet from the entrance as required by law. When questioned by a Honkala supporter, he responded that he’s an “elected” person (either a judge of election or committeeperson). If a judge of election, he should be inside but running the election in a non-partisan manner, not distributing literature. If he is fulfilling a partisan role, he needs to be outside the polling place. This location is also owned by Freddie Ramirez, the first Democratic candidate who was kicked off the ballot for not living in the District.”
“At the Wyoming Branch Library, Democrats have set up a table outside the polling place, with sign-in sheets and stickers, and giving voters the impression that this party-run table is the place to check in to vote, rather than the actual check-in station inside the polling place.”
The local Republican Party volunteers verified the Green Party accounts. Some, like John Ramos, a registered poll watcher, even helped voters understand how they could vote for Honkala. “Look, that is their choice, they have that right,” he said.
Joe DeFelice, head of the Philly GOP, addressed the volunteers at the Firefighters’ union hall after the result they did not want came in.
“Obviously [what] we saw today in the field, it was egregious, we knew it was gonna be egregious,” DeFelice said. “When you have the table workers working as your campaign workers, that’s a problem. When they’re the ones handing out the stamps and physically doing the write-ins for you that’s a problem.”
He added a zinger too, “Their last two representatives are convicted felons. And Leslie (Acosta) was working a poll today.”
The Honkala campaign also found themselves in legal hot water when someone pointed out that their flyers and other materials did not have the proper financial disclosure printed on them. The Dems pounced on this mistake, and according to Hillary Kane, campaign treasurer, they were able to secure an injunction. The sheriff arrived on scene, and the materials were confiscated despite attempts by Green Party volunteers to amend the mistake.
“The second we learned there was a problem, we took steps to correct it,” Kane said. “We pulled the literature and asked our poll workers to write-in the needed language. While this was unfortunate, it by no means rises to the level of voter intimidation and misleading behavior that we’ve seen from the Democratic Party.”
We caught up with Kane at Green Party HQ. Kane was busy taking down oral reports of voter intimidation, improper behavior by polling officials and other candidates poll workers. “My job today is point person for election day shenanigans. Voter intimidation, irregularities… My phone has been ringing off the hook,” Kane said.
Kane says responding to all the claims of voter intimidation has been daunting. “It’s been a constant game of whack a mole,” Kane says. Kane also says they plan on inviting all the DA candidates out to their press conference today as a show of solidarity for Democracy. “It’s the DA’s office, and look what happened with them today,” Kane says.
According to DeFelice, “The DA was as responsive as they could be … well, the assistant DA’s,” he said in a brief moment of humor when someone yelled out that the DA got indicted that afternoon. “The sheriff was as responsive as they could be.”
Despite being responsive, the poll workers at several locations went back to doing what they were told not to do immediately after the ADA, Sheriffs, and City Commissioner’s Office personnel walked out of the room. One worker actually reported a Spirit News reporter to the DA’s office for allegedly taking pictures.
Honkala arrived at Green Party HQ about an hour after the polls closed. She was greeted with hugs from all the volunteers, before delivering a short address to the crowd of poll workers and organizers.
“Whenever you’re up against evil, love and doing the right thing always works,” Honkala said. “We’ve already won. Now we must make sure that every vote counts, and that they do not steal this election. It’s about election integrity and democracy in America. Too many people fought and died for it, and we’re not going to let it go away.”
Honkala went on to congratulate her campaign workers. “We ran on a Green Party ticket in a democratic party stronghold crooked district, and look at the beauty in this room,” Honkala said. “This new idea has been birthed in this city, and there’s no stopping us now.”
We caught up with Honkala after her address, and asked her for her thoughts on the widespread voter intimidation being reported by her workers. “We’re in trouble. If you can so blatantly obstruct democracy, we’re all in trouble,” Honkala said. “I’m not anti-Democrat, anti-Republican I’m just anti-corruption.”
DeFelice wrapped up his remarks by pointing out that the community is the real victim.
“I’m standing between Carlos Matos (A Democratic Ward leader) and some Green Party guy and one’s arguing about how they’re gonna be taking out Emilio next year and the next guy is talking about climate change. And I realize there’s a total disconnect from what’s going on in this community when across the street I watch an open-air drug deal,” DeFelice said.
Despite the loss and personally seeing Green Party people assisting voters as well, Lucinda Little wished Honkala and the Greens well. “Honestly, I hope she wins.”
The official vote count will take place at the end of the week. Spirit News will continue to update this story as it unfolds.