Election 2020

West Philly special election: Your voter guide for a confusing PA House race

Whoever wins Tuesday’s ballot will be up for re-election in two months. 

Left: G. Roni Green; Right: Wanda Logan

Left: G. Roni Green; Right: Wanda Logan

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West Philly voters head to the polls on Tuesday, Feb. 25, to elect a new leader in the Pa. House of Representatives. It’s a special election — aka one that’s held on a non-traditional date, usually to fill a vacant seat.

There’s only one Democrat and one Republican on the ballot. Whoever wins will be sworn into office…and immediately run again for re-election in two months. The regularly scheduled April 28 primary already looks to be contested on the Democratic side.

Here’s what you need to know for your last-minute civic engagement Tuesday, plus a look ahead.

District had back-to-back corruption scandals

“Special” might be a shade ironic for this election, as it’s the second one of its kind for this district in less than a year. For that you can blame two unrelated corruption scandals.

The reason we’re here now is ex-state Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell. She vacated the seat in December after federal prosecutors accused her of bilking more than $500,000 from a nonprofit she ran before taking office. She pleaded guilty, and her resignation triggered the current special election proceedings.

It was just nine months prior that voters in the 190th District elected Johnson-Harrell to replace their previous state rep, Vanessa Lowery Brown, a five-term Democrat who is now facing a two-year probation sentence on bribery charges.

Can the next official to hold this seat turn its reputation? Voters will decide who they think can do it in Tuesday’s special election — and again in the upcoming April primary.

Wait, do I live in this district?

You can plug in your address here to find out all of your election districts, and here’s a handy map. The 190th Pennsylvania House District covers a sizable chunk of West Philly and cuts across the river to North Philly via Fairmount Park, and into Allegheny West.

Only two candidates are running…for now

Democrat Gwendolyn Veronica Green (aka Roni Green) and Republican Wanda Logan are the two candidates you’ll see on the ballot Tuesday.

Green was most recently a business agent for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 668, and previously was a case worker for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. She’s also long been active in the local Democratic party, serving as a committee person in North Philly’s 38th Ward.

She has not run for office before, but Green has been out campaigning with fellow Democratic elected officials, helping boost her name. She told the Philadelphia Tribune she’ll focus on a stock set of issues if elected: reducing gun violence, ameliorating schools and improving wages.

On the other side, Logan is a local businesswoman. She has run for this same seat in the past — as a Democrat — having launched a number of unsuccessful campaigns against former state Rep. Lowery Brown since 2012.

Addressing her party change and new prospects, Logan cited corruption within the Democratic party as a primary concern, according to the Republican City Committee.

Who picked my party’s candidate?

Special elections in Philly are like “Fast & Furious” versions of our normal democratic proceedings.

In lieu of a primary, ward leaders in the district vote on the candidate among themselves. Then voters between the two parties decide between the candidates they’re dealt.

Critics have long decried the process as undemocratic. In an overwhelmingly blue town like Philly — Democrats make up 87% of voters in the 190th — the Democratic candidate is heavily favored to win.

This time, however, the stakes are a bit different. Special, we might say. Whoever wins will be sworn into office and finish the term through the end of the year, but they’ll also have to mount another campaign in the April primary.

A few scenarios could play out based on the outcome of both back-to-back elections.

So I have to vote in this race again come April?

That’s right. According to the Pa. Department of State, seven Democratic candidates filed petitions to run in the primary race, including Roni Green.

In addition to Green, the Democrats who registered are Amen Brown, Theodore Smith, Roi Ligon Jr., Danyl Patterson, Samuel Van Stone Downing and Michael Horsey.

Logan is the sole GOPer who filed petitions.

In the statistically unlikely chance Green loses, this arrangement means she will still be in able to run again in the April 28 primary — where the top-ticket presidential race is bound to increase Democratic voter turnout.

If Green wins, she will still have to defend her seat against that crowded field of Democratic challengers. Should she win Tuesday and lose the primary, she would still finish out the remaining nine months in the Pa. House this term.

Do I vote from my usual polling place?

The City Commissioners’ office tells Billy Penn most of the regularly operating polling places in the district will be operational for Tuesday’s special election.

That said, you should still check their website to make sure. Some sites may have been relocated due to construction or other reasons.

Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. — and as usual, you’re guaranteed a vote if you’re in line by closing time. Don’t expect a huge crowd: special elections historically draw lower turnout than normal elections.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2020 stories.

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