story by Roby Brock, a TCW content partner and owner of Talk Business
State Rep. Hudson Hallum (D-Marion) today resigned his House seat and withdrew as a candidate in the 2012 election after entering a guilty plea on a federal charge related to his 2011 special election.
Hudson, 29, was mired in some controversy after winning a high number of absentee ballots in his 2011 special election race. In February 2012, Talk Business blogger Jason Tolbert reported that the FBI had subpoenaed election officials from Crittenden County to appear before a grand jury.
At the time, Hallum said he had no knowledge of the investigation.
Hallum’s resignation from the House District 54 seat coincided with an appearance today in U.S. District Court where he entered a plea of guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit election fraud. His father, Kent Hallum, West Memphis City Council member Phillip Carter, and Crittenden County quorum court member Sam Malone also plead guilty to charges.
Hallum said he has accepted full responsibility and is cooperating with federal authorities.
“I have always felt a calling for public service,” Hallum said. “I ran for office because I simply thought it was another opportunity to serve the public. While I ran for office for all the right reasons, in order to win the election, I made awful decisions. Going forward, I am committed to demonstrating to my community, and to my family, how very much I regret this serious mistake.”
U.S. Attorney Jane Duke said the charges are the first known use of the Travel Act to bring charges for “vote-buying” in a purely local election.
“In a nation in which every person’s vote matters, protecting the integrity of the electoral process from those who seek to win office by cheating the system is critical,” Duke said. “Vote fraud schemes such as that carried out in the 2011 District 54 race have the devastating effect of eroding public confidence in elected officials and disenfranchising voters,” she added.
The prosecutor’s statement outlines some of the transgressions in the case.
It says that Rep. Hallum and his father destroyed absentee ballots that contained votes of his opponent. It also states that Hallum and the other defendants admitted to buying votes.
Duke also disclosed examples of Hallum’s campaign buying votes through food and whiskey:
For example, in or about May 2011, Carter and Malone provided a chicken dinner to an individual in exchange for the absentee ballot votes of that individual and one other individual.
Further, the felony information states that on or about May 4, 2011, Carter contacted Hudson Hallum about a family of eight who had requested a “family meal” in exchange for their absentee ballot votes being cast in favor of Hudson Hallum. Carter requested $20 from Hudson Hallum to pay for the food, to which request Hudson Hallum agreed.
Hallum also told Carter, “We need to use that black limo and buy a couple of cases of some cheap vodka and whiskey to get people to vote.” Two days later, Carter and Kent Hallum spoke with an individual in Memphis, Tennessee about getting a discounted price for the purchase of 100 half pints of vodka for the campaign.
The maximum statutory penalty for the conspiracy charge is 5 years imprisonment plus a potential fine of $250,000.
Hallum’s exit from the race leaves only Green Party nominee Fred Smith, a former Democratic State Representative from the area who resigned in 2011 over a theft by receiving conviction. He was also mired in a controversy regarding his residency.
At this juncture, it would appear that Green will win the seat. State law does not allow a vacancy in nomination to serve as a trigger for a special election. Smith will be the only candidate to appear on the ballot in November.