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Did Democracy Die in Philly After the 197th Special Election?

Imagine it’s a Sunday afternoon in late October. The Dallas Cowboys are at the Linc with the ball at their own 20, first and ten. Before the ball is snapped the ref whispers into Dak Prescott’s ear and gives Ezekiel Elliott a thumbs up. Prescott hands the ball off and Zeke sprints 40 yards while several Eagles are clearly and obviously being held. The Bird’s coaches scream at the officials, who just shrug their shoulders. The next play is a pass to Dez Bryant. Dez gets hit across the middle and fumbles, but before the Eagles can recover the ball a linesman kicks it out of bounds and signals “Dallas Ball.” The next play is a TD with clear offensive pass interference again unpenalized.

  Things get even crazier for the hometown team: when Carson Wentz leads the offense onto the field and calls a pass play in the huddle, he is informed by officials that passing is illegal and only run plays are allowed. Confused and infuriated the quarterback quickly calls a run play as the play clock ticks down, but before he gets the snap the ref says the play can only be a run up the middle. He then summons the other officials over to form a wall to the right and left of the Eagles running back, ensuring a quick and easy tackle for Big D.

  Irate, the Eagles call for the league to looking into this strange series of event, only to have the NFL call a press conference to announce that Tom Brady’s missing game-worn Super Bowl jockstrap has been found.

  At what point does your head pop off? At what point do you decide the NFL system is rigged and needs to be overhauled?

  This basically happened last week in Philadelphia, but it wasn’t a football game: It was an election to decide who gets a seat in the Pennsylvania Legislature representing the 197th District. The person who occupies that seat represents about 63,000 Philadelphians in the State House making laws, deciding where to direct dwindling resources (fighting crime, education children, you know, petty stuff like that). They also decide who will replenish those resources (hint, hint, it’s you) and how much they will replenish.

  In the game of politics the folks who represent us make deals and compromises all the time. Representative A needs money for a road project and asks Representative B for support. Rep. B could use some funds for a local library project. Done deal. But what if Rep.B just wants jobs for friends that help him get re-elected? Looks like the library will wait.

  That’s the motive for the incredible effort to get the job that pays $85,000 a year, with some perks.

  Last week’s special election featured one candidate, a Republican, on the ballot, along with a handful of write-in candidates. It was an atypical election for a number of reason, but touring the polling locations last Tuesday revealed a circus of fraud and intimidation. Racketeers, embezzlers and double-dealers all clowned law enforcement personnel while juggling stamps with their candidate’s name and orchestrated fancy footwork walking in and out of voting booths that deceived voter’s own eyes.

  The ringleader, careful not to crack the whip in public view, nonetheless assured that his performers recorded the names of the attendees lest they ever seek help in obtaining resources from the government in the future. It is essentially preying upon the poor to strongarm their voting voice and doing nothing in government to get them out of poverty. Hey, the show must go on!

  Here are a few highlights from last week’s performance:

  • The taxpayer-provided ballot sheets (a.k.a. the “pink sheets”) doctored by campaigns who sought folks to write-in their candidates.
  • Candidate’s stamps being handed out by the taxpayer-paid and elected election board officials.
  • Poll watcher’s witnessing voters who intended to vote for the Republican candidate that they “ain’t gonna do that in my machine” by a taxpayer-paid machine inspector.
  • A woman recruited voters from a nearby motel. Witnesses from the Green Party and Republican Party reported that one voter, who was brought by the woman, demanded his $20 as he exited, apparently not understanding that he needed to walk around the block to receive his payoff away from the eyes of other candidate’s volunteers.
  • Tables set-up outside polling places with “sign-in” sheets for voters. Voters were told as they approached that they had to sign in, then left confused as to why they had to sign in twice.
  • A voter who accepted a Cheri Honkala stamp from a Green Party volunteer and politely bypassed the volunteers for Emilio Vazquez, told the Greens after she voted that a person at the table informed her that her stamp wouldn’t work, according to the Green volunteer. She was handed an Vazquez stamp instead. A Republican volunteer verified the account.
  • Able-bodied voters who spoke only Spanish were escorted into the booths by Democratic committee people, acting as “translators,” despite every word in the machine having a Spanish version next to the English.
  • One voter was turned away three times, incorrectly being told he was in the wrong place. On his fourth time he was told he could vote, but he had to go get an Emilio Vazquez stamp first. He had a Cheri Honkala flyer on his bike and personally talked to Republican Lucinda Little and her volunteer about voting for her.
  • Many poll watchers and voters reported that they called the DA’s office for assistance but lines were busy. The time of the calls coincided with the Federal indictment of DA Seth Williams.

  None of us at Spirit News were surprised by any specific antics that went on. This is Philly, after all. About 150 years ago a man named William McMullen ran a prison, a private fire company and the election booths. Voting against his guy could get your house burned down and a year in prison. He may not be impressed with the ilk running elections today. But for modern times, the sheer volume, organization and consistent disregard for the rules for a small special election was disturbing.

  Apparently the Green and Republican Parties will seek a second act for this show in Federal court this week. One can only hope that if nothing else comes out of this that the process is reformed. A primary and general election with 1686 divisions would provide way too much area to cover for community reporters, the DA’s office and the Commissioners and the their staff. The 197th had only 75 divisions. More eyes need to be allowed at the polling places, not less. In an age of mass surveillance, it’s kind of ironic that that process of electing lawmakers is done in the shadows.

  If we want to throw a red flag on the election process we’ll need multiple angles to take another look.

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