Press Release

Attorney General Josh Shapiro Announces Criminal Charges for Interference in Special Election in 197th Legislative District

October 30, 2017 | Topic: Criminal

Charges, Including Fraud by Four Election Officers, Filed Today

PHILADELPHIA — Attorney General Josh Shapiro, joined by Philadelphia District Attorney Kelley B. Hodge, today announced criminal charges against four Philadelphia election workers for violating the Pennsylvania Election Code during a March special election for a state House seat in Philadelphia.

“We’re here to announce charges against four individuals for interfering with a free and fair election for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives,” Attorney General Shapiro said at a press conference today. “But also to draw a clear line – ahead of next week’s election and during a time when the integrity of our country’s elections are under question – the sanctity of ‘one person, one vote’ must be and will be upheld here in Pennsylvania.”

The March 21st special election for a seat in the 197th Legislative District was ordered by House Speaker Mike Turzai to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of the previous representative. Only one candidate, Republican Lucinda Little, appeared on the ballot.  Democrat Emilio Vasquez and Green Party candidate Cheri Honkala ran write-in campaigns.  Vasquez won the election.

Allegations of voter fraud, electioneering at polls and voter intimidation were reported to the Philadelphia DA’s Office on the day of the special election and for days afterwards. The Majority Leader of the Pennsylvania House, Rep. Dave Reed, also requested an investigation into the allegations.

The Philadelphia DA’s election fraud task force opened an investigation with the Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations and worked jointly on the case.

One aspect of the investigation revealed behavior and conduct by election workers in Ward 43 – Division 7, located at the Esperanza Health Center in North Philadelphia, that violated Pennsylvania’s Election Code and state criminal laws. These are the four people designated to run the election in that precinct:

The four election workers comprised the election board at poll 43-7. They were 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.

“While there is no evidence the outcome of the election was impacted by the actions of these individuals, we must protect the sanctity of Pennsylvania elections at all costs,” Attorney General Shapiro said.

“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 District Attorney 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, November 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.”

In one incident on Election Day, two Republican voters – a couple who spoke limited English – planned to assist each other at the polls, permissible under language proficiency rules. They entered the same polling booth, cast their votes for the Republican candidate, and both were under the impression that their votes were counted. One of their votes, however, was either never cast or never counted.

The missed vote should have caused an under-count at day’s end, with 24 sign-ins and only 23 votes. However, the official results from 43-7 show 24 votes cast – including 17 votes for Vazquez, 4 for Honkala and 1 for Little, plus two blank votes.

The next to last voter of the day at poll 43-7 planned to vote with the help of another voter.  When the voter told the translator someone else would assist him, the translator grew aggressive and overbearing, making the voter feel as though he “never wanted to vote again,” as outlined in the affidavit of probable cause.

The final voter at polling place 43-7 became frustrated when election workers warned him not to bring information about a candidate inside the voting booth – something permitted by law.  Then, the voter was told the machine was “broken”.  Investigators determined the machines were operational all day.

The voter left the polls, but two people explained how to return and vote for the candidate of his choosing. Video outside shows the machine inspector uttering a expletive at the voter as he re-entered the poll.  Confusion continued inside, and the voter opted to push the Democratic button.  Because the Democrat was a write-in candidate, the vote was never completed or counted. However, investigators found the official machine tape revealed the final vote of the day was a write-in — for Vasquez.

“Pennsylvania law clearly states that fraud by election officers is not permissible and this behavior – such as certifying false results – is fraud,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “We’re watching, and we have no tolerance for any interference in free and fair elections here in Pennsylvania.”

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