DEMOCRACY ISN'T democracy without fair and honest elections. So, what do we call the recent special election in the Philadelphia's 197th state House?

Through a series of screwups by the local party organization, no Democrat was on the ballot for the seat vacated by state Rep. Leslie Acosta, who resigned after pleading guilty to federal felony charges last year.

Election Day March 21 dawned with only Republican Lucinda Little's name on the ballot. This is a deep-blue Democratic district in the heart of the city's largest Latino neighborhood, so normally Little would not stand a chance. This time, it looked as if she might have one.

It was not to be. Little was swamped when the Democratic leaders in the district mounted a write-in campaign for fellow ward leader Emilio Vazquez. He got 1,970 write-in votes. A second write-in candidate, activist Cheri Honkala, got 282. Little ran third with 198 votes.

On one hand, it was a triumph of organization for Carlos Matos, leader of the 19th Ward, and other Vazquez supporters. Write-in candidates rarely win, but these supporters ran a textbook campaign on how to succeed.

On the other hand, there were multiple allegations of fraudulent activity involving Vazquez's supporters - some from the local Republican party, some from callers who complained to election officials.

The Voter Fraud Task Force of the District Attorney's Office is investigating. New state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said his office would work with the DA's office. The local Republican party is preparing to file a lawsuit in federal court alleging misbehavior that violated voters' rights to a fair election.

We encourage all these parties to vigorously pursue the case. If the investigation undercovers fraudulent behavior, we urge officials to prosecute to the fullest extent allowed by law. In Philadelphia, politicians usually laugh off fraud charges.

In the 197th, poll watchers brought in by the Republicans reported numerous incidents of illegal activity. For instance, Vazquez's supporters had his name on rubber stamps that could be use in the polling booth. Nothing wrong with that. But, it is wrong for election officials, who are supposed to be neutral, to hand out the stamps when a voter signs in. And supposedly neutral poll workers shouldn't be stepping into the booth along with voters to "help" them vote.

Those are allegations the Republicans made - and we find them credible. It tracks with Election Day behavior in the past in these wards, where the partisan roles played by committee people often merge with the oversight duties of election officials.

In the 2015 primary election, when Councilwoman Maria Sanchez ran against machine-backed challenger Manny Morales, there were cases of election division officials and interpreters, who are hired to help non-English speakers, who were also committee people. They got both their salary from the city for Election Day work and street money from ward leaders.

Investigators should also look carefully at the flow of money spent to support Vazquez in the special election. In the 2015 primary, thousands of dollars flowed out were never accounted for. Matos, for instance, got $26,000 to help lead the anti-Sanchez efforts, but never produced receipts showing how he spent that money, as required by law.

But what's the law among friends? Political leaders play these games and game the system. You can call it clever, but no one should call it democracy in action.