Will voter fraud accusations end up in court? 

Phenix City Council member apologizes to people whose names were publicly outed
Nov. 30, 2017

By Blenda copeland

Math and verification are part of the investigation into accusations in Phenix City that at least 52 or more people illegally cast votes in the District 2 special election Nov. 14 by registering with a business address instead of their primary residential address.

The sticky part is how you choose to define “residence” or even its synonym word, “domicile.” Can someone who lives outside District 2 use a commercial business address in District 2 when registering so he or she can vote in District 2? What happens if someone does and it’s challenged?

In an interview Monday, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill confirmed problems can arise for an elector if someone challenges his or her right to vote in a particular area.

That’s what’s going on in Phenix City: a challenge – that could impact who the city’s next District 2 council member is. 

Local attorney Joseph Wiley Jr. announced at a Monday press conference organized by the Russell County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that he’s representing District 2 city council candidate Vickey Carter Johnson. At 4:30 p.m. later that day, he filed in Russell County Circuit Court a contest election – that is, a formal complaint – Vickey Carter-Johnson v. Russell County Board of Registrars. 

According to the papers, which cite a code for Judge Michael Bellamy’s court, Johnson is filing on grounds of ARCP 17-15-1(1): “(1) mal-conduct, fraud, or corruption on the part of any inspector, clerk, maker, returning officer, board of supervisors or other person.” 

Johnson was expected to pay a $7,500 security bond required of the filing. The papers also assert Johnson is claiming “intentional wrongdoing” and essentially seeks that the proper people be notified, an investigative hearing be held and that the court issues orders to appropriately resolve the claim “in the short term and long term” for Russell County electors.

At Monday’s press conference, Wiley said he expected Russell County’s circuit judges might recuse themselves. If that happens, an impartial judge would be appointed to preside over the case in Russell County Circuit Court. He confirmed that if needed, the case could (through appeals, etc.) eventually ascend to the Alabama Supreme Court.

Johnson strongly asserted Nov. 20 after the Phenix City Council work session that she would have clearly won the Nov. 14 special election if the questionable voters’ ballots had not come into play - based on an assumption that all those votes were cast for her opponent, Baxley Oswalt. Ballots are secret; there’s no way to prove who someone voted for. 

The Phenix City Council canvassed the election results and certified them at a special called meeting at noon Nov. 21. Oswalt and Johnson were present to witness the event, along with Probate Judge Alford Harden and others. Absent was a third candidate, Steve Franklin, who began the Nov. 20 council work session conversation about voter fraud.

 The final, certified vote count, including the 19 absentee votes, was: 473 votes cast. Of that number, 240 went to Johnson, 225 to Oswalt, and 26 to Franklin. 

The probate judge confirmed Nov. 21 that regardless of the voter fraud complaints, a run-off would still happen Dec. 19 because neither candidate received a majority (51 percent or more) of the vote.

City Manager Wallace Hunter didn’t name specific complainants, but said at the city’s Nov. 20 work session he turned over complaints his office received to Police Chief Ray Smith, who said he hand-delivered a letter on the city’s behalf to the Board of Registrars. 

Paul Stamp, a local businessman and Phenix City school board president, was one of 52, many of them well-known citizens with well-known businesses, whose names ended up on a questionable voter list cited in the city’s letter. 

Regarding the city’s request that the board drop the names listed in the letter, Board of Registrars Chairman Jimmy Adams said Nov. 20 that he’d act as directed by attorney Kenneth Funderburk.

Adams said the Board of Registrars didn’t break the law: “We follow the AG’s (Attorney General) opinion and the statutes,” he said. He said if it’s a legitimate 911 address in “our street file,” then, “we register you.” 

Research of Alabama voter laws appears to show the county board of registrars has the power, but is not necessarily mandated, to “examine testimony” regarding a voter’s qualifications when he or she registers to vote (Section 17-3-52).

Yet, Section 17-4-6.1 c) says the county board of registrars, upon receiving a written report in accordance with subsection a) that a voter is a nonresident of the precinct in which he or she is registered to vote, the board is to investigate and determine if the voter should be disqualified from the statewide voter registration list. If the voter is disqualified, he or she has 30 days to prove to the board why he or she should remain a qualified voter at the residential address recorded in his or her registration record.

District 1 City Councilman Steve Bailey called The Citizen Tuesday seeking to share his personal opinions of what has happened.

“The list, in my opinion, should have never been exposed with the names on it out to the public,” he said, meaning the 52 questionable voters’ names. He said it appeared to him that “the investigation might have been started prematurely” and that if anyone broke the law, he didn’t think people intentionally meant to do so.

During its Nov. 21 regular meeting, the Phenix City Council voted to let City Attorney Jimmy Graham seek an AG opinion of what “domicile” means for the purpose of voting in Alabama. In an interview, Graham noted that if there’s already an AG opinion on the matter, he won’t seek a new one.