Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson met with the Boone County Election Commission last week to talk about an instance of illegal voting in the November special city election regarding a proposed community center.
Harrison voters had been asked to approve two sales taxes. One was a 0.75% temporary sales tax to build the $39.9 million facility, while the other was 0.25% permanent tax that would pay to operate it and to maintain other parks facilities.
Both issues were defeated by about 60% of votes against the taxes. Voter turnout was about 31% and no irregularities were noted at the time the results were certified.
The election was only open to city voters, but Jackson said Thursday that he had been made aware of a citizen who lived outside the city limits but voted in the election.
“In my opinion, it’s about as bad as it can get when somebody knowingly, illegally votes,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he didn’t want to identify the particular voter in public that day.
“I think the worst thing I could do is share who it is and then her name is out there and all of a sudden she’s not guilty,” Jackson said.
He asked how the process would work if a complaint was filed and a prosecution ensued.
Commission chairman John Cantwell said the way he understood it was that the voter in question lived outside the city, then transferred her voter registration to her mother’s residence in the city in order to vote in the election. Jackson agreed that was the case.
Cantwell said he had been made aware of the issue some time ago, although not in an official manner. Still, he said it didn’t appear to fall within the commission’s bailiwick.
He explained that political parties sometimes employ poll watchers to challenge any such votes. If there is an issue, the poll watcher notifies the prosecuting attorney.
To clarify, election coordinator Beckie Benton said the poll watcher would challenge the voter based on address and the voter would cast a provisional ballot. An investigation would then ensue and the matter would be turned over to the prosecutor if deemed necessary.
Jackson said that in this case the matter wasn’t caught until after the election.
Benton said that the issue had been discussed before, but not in a commission meeting. She said that on election day and in passing, one commissioner told another about the allegation. No complaint was filed and the voter wasn’t identified, so no investigation was initiated.
Benton said County Clerk Crystal Graddy advised that she could meet with the commission to draft a letter to the voter in question in relation to the voter’s intent.
Benton explained that the voter intent law revolves around where the voter intends to live in order to determine voter registration. Even if a resident owns a house in the county, they can have their registration changed to the house in the city they also own if that’s where they intend to live.
The letter would ask the voter to pick a domicile residence for voter registration. That could clear up the matter without having to resort to prosecution.
Jackson said it doesn’t appear the voter in question intends to live in the city anytime soon.
“But we’re talking 2019,” the mayor said. “She had no intent on living there in 2019.”
Jackson said the individual still receives the homestead tax credit for the residence outside the city. Benton said the letter could also explain that that credit could be lost if changing voter addresses.
Commissioner Lavonne McCullough asked if a voter has to prove being at the address for any specific period of time before changing registration locations. Benton said that she wasn’t aware of any black-and-white law requiring that.
Jackson said that opens it up to anyone who lives in the county and owns even a rental property inside the city.
Cantwell suggested that Jackson give Benton the name of the voter after the public portion of the meeting to let the process begin. Jackson agreed and gave Benton the name after the official meeting was adjourned.
The mayor said he was taking it personally because the voter opposed the sales tax issue. He said the matter to him was about the sanctity of elections.
“I’m just surprised that the whole … that everybody doesn’t feel that way when it comes to voting,” Jackson said. “It’s just such a privilege and then when we do it illegally, knowingly, it just goes all over me.”