A Democrat won a special election for the State Legislature in Crittenden County last night.
Normally, a blog post could end right there and no one would care, but this special election was a mess. The Republican Party threw numerous charges of corruption and absentee ballot fraud at the Democratic nominee. The State Police are investigating the fraud allegations from the Democratic run-off and the State Board of Election Commissioners sent an election monitor to help oversee the election. Sheesh, what a cluster.
The special election was to replace Rep. Fred Smith, recently convicted of felony theft charges and who probably actually lived in Mississippi. Hudson Hallum beat Kim Felker by 8 votes in the Democratic run-off to receive his party’s nomination.
For the special general election, three candidates vied for the seat: Democrat Hudson Hallum, Republican John Geelan and Independent candidate D’James Rogers. Rogers was the only African-American in this majority-minority district and previously worked for Governor Beebe’s gubernatorial campaign as a field staffer. Democrats worried that Rogers and Hallum would split the vote and allow Geelan to slip on in to victory.
In the last week of the campaign, the GOP sent multiple hyper-ventilating press releases claiming corruption and voter fraud in the special election.
I spoke briefly with Hudson Hallum last night about the voter fraud allegations. His response: “My team ran a good, clean campaign and they worked hard. We had the worst flood in a 100 years going on, half our district was underwater. People wanted to vote and they were worried they couldn’t go to the polls. It’s all a distraction away from the real issues. The Republican Party knows they couldn’t win on the real issues, so they tried to make a distraction out of it. It was an easy target.”
The Republican Party staked much of their fraud charges on the story one woman told that allegedly people from Hallum’s campaign took her blank absentee ballot and voted for Hallum. Supposedly, there are other allegations about absentee ballots and whether or not they actually made it to the courthouse.
Are the allegations true or not true? It could just be sour grapes from Felker’s camp after losing a razor-thin election. I don’t know what happened, but it’s important to remember they are just allegations at this point. Let’s see what the investigations turn up.
In their press releases, the RPA feigned shock that Democrats were out there “hustling for votes.” However, getting your supporters to vote via absentee ballot is a basic campaign tactic that Republicans and Democrats have used for years and it’s totally ethical and legal. A supporter who doesn’t vote doesn’t do you any good, so you better make sure they vote.
One my proudest moments in politics was back in 2008 when I took an absentee ballot to the mother of a good friend of mine who had taken ill days before the Presidential Primary. She was too sick to vote early or go on Election Day and desperately wanted to vote for Hillary Clinton because she wanted to be able to vote for the first credible female candidate for President. Thankfully, because of our absentee ballot laws, her vote was counted.
One important fact many seem to forget when hurling voter fraud charges is that during the primary and run-off held in April and May, Crittenden County was severely flooded due the massive rainstorms. Getting your supporters to vote absentee was a smart campaign tactic since there were serious questions about which polling places would be open.
However, the Hallum campaign didn’t help matters when their candidate had this exchange this with a Memphis TV reporter a few days ago over the question of voter fraud:
TV Reporter: “But since you don’t know, there’s a possibility the people working on your campaign may actually have committed voter fraud.”
Hallum: “Well, I can’t say one way or another what anybody is doing when I’m not there with them, so I wouldn’t want to say whether they did something like that or not.”
Ouch. A very weak response to an easy and specific question. And the rest of that interview with Hallum was along those same lines. But in Hallum’s defense, the weak response was probably more the product of a first-time candidate than any chicanery. But it was enough to add fuel to the fire.
And the Hallum campaign had another unforced error when they failed to file the last financial disclosure report the Friday before the election as required by law. Moreover, they just faxed the cover page and said that no one had made a copy of the report and that the only complete copy was in the mail. The fact that Hallum had $52,000 in undocumented loans only made this error worse. The GOP filed an ethics complaint on Monday over the matter, but way too late for anyone to care or notice.
In the end, after all the noise, charges of fraud and corruption, the Democrat won with 51% of the vote in a three-person race. Rogers and Geelan received 28% and 21% respectively, according to unofficial results. Clearly, voters didn’t believe any of the various allegations and the Republican couldn’t even muster a quarter of the vote total.
I asked Hallum what he would have done differently and he replied that there wasn’t one thing he would have done differently.
Before the call ended Hallum added, “I’m glad the election is over with. I’ll take a day or so break and I’m ready to get to work. I’m ready to get this election certified and get sworn in and get to work.”
Do yesterday’s results mean anything for next year’s general election? Nope. Nothing. Democrats were supposed to win this race and they did. And even if the Republican had won, it would not have meant anything for next year’s election either. A GOP victory would have given the Republicans bragging rights, but their candidate would have lost in November 2012. Think about it. A white Republican running in a majority-minority district with Obama on the ticket. Yeah, he would not have survived.
However, there is one thing to consider for 2012. A majority-minority district is now represented by a young white male. Will he face a serious challenge from an African-American in next year’s Democratic primary or not? Only time will tell.
I’m just glad this special election is over.
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