A vacancy created by the indictment of former Rep. Fred Smith (D-MS) has led to a mid-summer special election in Crittenden County in eastern Arkansas. This Delta district is normally one of the safest Democratic seats, but this election is turning out to be as hot as the Arkansas summer.
Election day is tomorrow (July 12) between Democrat Hudson Hallum, Republican John Geelan, and independent candidate D’James Rogers. However, the race may already be tipped in the favor of one candidate due to the size of the absentee ballots already received. As of this morning, 226 votes have been cast in early voting while 551 absentee ballots have been received out of 746 total sent out. And it is these absentee ballots that have raised the most concerns and charges of fraud from the primary runoff.
The four-way Democratic primary in April led to a May runoff between Hudson Hallum and Kim Felker where Hallum won by a mere 8 votes. However, he carried the absentee ballots by a margin of around 6-to-1 with 401 absentee votes to Felker’s 69 absentee votes.
This, along with other irregularities, has caused Felker to cry foul saying that vote fraud has taken place. She claims she was approached by Leroy Grant who said he could help her secure votes and she has a voicemail recording to back her up. She turned him down, but apparently Hallum did not as Grant is listed as a paid campaign worker on his disclosure forms.
In the video above, Memphis TV station ABC24 caught up with Hallum who said, "As far as what they’re doing, we don’t know. Out on the ground, I’m not out there with them. I would like to think that’s not going on in this election."
Also, on his Facebook page, Hudson attempted to refute the voter featured in the ABC report as having her absentee ballot cast for Hallum. He wrote that he "w
I attempted to contact Hudson for more information, but have not heard back; however, he did respond to area resident Johnny Rogers on his Facebook page (UPDATE – deleted immediately following the posting of this story) saying, "Anyone who has ever ran in election, like me and not you, would know that you have to hustle to get every vote. There is no law against helping people sign up for absentee ballots, especially since the worst flood in 100 years was going on and people still wanted to vote. The only thing going on here is attempt by the losing party to pull support away from me. All I can say is if the republicans want to win this race, they better get off the couch and get to doin the hustle!"
Hmmm. That does not instill much confidence. The situation has led to a bit of back and forth with the two state parties.
"Testimony clearly demonstrates voter fraud is occurring by Democrats in the House District 54 race in Crittenden County," said Chase Duggar, executive director of the Republican Party of Arkansas. "Meanwhile, Democrat candidate Hudson Hallum, the Crittenden County Democrat Committee and the Democrat Party of Arkansas are refusing to acknowledge the illegal corruption happening on their watch. Hallum’s dishonest campaign is taking advantage of voters in Crittenden County. There is absolutely no room for this type of behavior in the Arkansas House of Representatives. Crittenden County deserves better and the Democrat Party needs to disavow their candidate and join us in demanding a fair election process."
Of course, the Democratic Party of Arkansas does not see it that way.
"The State Republican Party has latched on to attacking the system in an act of desperation to distract from the real problem: their own bad ideas and the negative impact their anti-working family platform would have in East Arkansas," responded Candace Martin, DPA spokesperson. "Over this past year, Republican officials have squandered Arkansas tax dollars and pushed for legislation that would hurt public schools, and John Geelan wants to join his GOP stalwarts in Little Rock to enable those practices to continue despite the negative effect that agenda would have on the people of East Arkansas."
Funny business with absentee ballots is one of the unfortunate realities of voting in east Arkansas. The system is relatively simple. A "Get Out the Vote" consultant is hired by the campaign to focus on securing as many absentee ballots as possible for his candidate. Away from the watchful eyes of poll watchers, this consultant can "hustle" to round up as many votes as possible. The legislature attempted to cut down on some of this mischief by making it a crime to possess more than 10 absentee ballots at a time. With 746 ballots requested for the current election, it is highly likely this rule has been violated, but proving this is difficult.
As such, the state Board of Election Commissioners have sent monitors to keep an eye on things. In addition, prosecutor Scott Ellington has asked the state police to investigate the charges. (Side note – Ellington also has employed "Get Out the Vote" consultant Tommy Davis who has a similar rocky past when it comes to Delta elections.)
The final tally will come in tomorrow night. In a three-way general election, whoever has a plurality will be the winner, which gives Republicans a rare chance to win this district. Observers say the early voting indicates a close one, but don’t be surprised if Hallum has an overwhelming margin from the "hustled" absentee ballots.
UPDATE – In researching this story, I was unable to get a copy of Hallum’s most recent financial disclosure report covering May 11 to July 2. This report was due by July 5, but the Secretary of State currently only has a faxed copy of page one received by fax on July 8. The one page filed (for May 11 through June 30) shows $3,350 of contributions and more importantly $50,165 of campaign expenses with a new loan of $52,500, but does not include any detail. Obviously, in light of this story, these detailed pages could be relevant.