by Max Brantley
UPDATE: The U.S. attorney's office has announced that four men, including Democratic state Rep. Hudson Hallum of Marion, pleaded guilty today to felony conspiracy to commit election fraud in Hallum's special election victory last year. The case charges paying for bundled absentee ballots.
All four appeared today in federal court and were released on their own recognizance. The others were Hallum's father, Kent Hallum, a car dealer; West Memphis police officer Sam Malone and West Memphis City Councilman Phillip Carter.
Said the indictment:
On or about May 22, 2011, PHILLIP WAYNE CARTER discussed the HALLUM campaign’s absentee ballot strategy with an individual known to the Attorney for the United States and stated, “Folk gonna vote for whoever pay them.”
Here's the news release on the case. Jane Duke led the investigation and was quoted:
“The most fundamental rights we enjoy as American citizens include the ability to vote and, if we so choose, to run for elected office. 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. Voter 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,” said Duke.
Members of the House Democratic caucus received this e-mail from Hallum's address before the announcement:
It is with deep regret that I am sending this message out to each of you today. This afternoon I am going to plead guilty to federal charges stemming from an investigation into my special election. I took some bad advice that led to some bad decisions on my part. I am going to stand up and accept full responsibility for my actions. I am truly sorry because I know this news will have an effect on everyone's upcoming race. I would give anything to be able to change what happened but unfortunately I can not undo the past. Please accept my apologies and if any needs to contact me my number is 9013015650. It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve with each of you and our state is a better place for what you have done
Chief Paramedic, Crittenden EMS
State Representative (D-Marion)
Sent from my iPhone
A Democratic Party spokesman confirmed to me that Hallum resigned from office today. Candace Martin issued this statement:
We are disappointed by the actions taken by Rep. Hallum. The sanctity of our elections and the rights of voters to see that every vote is counted fairly and responsibly are some of the basic, fundamental liberties of our democracy. No threat to those liberties can or should be endured. Hudson Hallum is taking responsiblity for his actions and we hope that will help resolve things in a way to see that such activities will never be tolerated.
Sentencing will come later after pre-sentence reports. The maximum statutory penalty for the conspiracy charge is 5 years imprisonment plus a potential fine of $250,000. The statements so far make no mention of inducements in sentencing for the guilty pleas.
The news release said special state prosecutor H.G. Foster will continue to investigate other potential fraud in the special election.
Earlier articles on a probe of illegal practices in Crittenden County have reported on a voice mail of someone offering to deliver absentee votes to the candidate Hallum defeated, Kim Felker. The man went to work later for Hallum's campaign.
Hallum was on the ballot unopposed this year until Fred Smith was nominated by the Green Party. Smith is the previous holder of the seat, but resigned after a theft conviction for stealing money from a school district. That opened the seat for Hallum. Democrats had successfully sued to keep Smith off the Democratic ballot this year because he carried the conviction when he filed. But the Green Party later nominated him and said it had no qualms about his qualifications. Smith has argued that a deferred sentence he received in the theft case meant he wasn't technically a convict.
Hallum's resignation creates a number of complications on the electoral front. It's too late for a special election for his now vacant House seat to complete this year's term.
Hallum is fixed as a name on the ballot. If he should win, the position would be declared vacant because he's ineligible to serve. Then there could be a special election for the seat. If Smith wins, no problem. Someone could also sue to stop counting votes were counted for Hallum.
An investigation is also underway of similar alleged absentee fraud in a recent Mississippi County legislative election.