Three charged with election law violations in Bluff City

News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

JOHNSON CITY – An investigation by Special Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has resulted in three Bluff City residents being charged with violating an election law.

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Wheel tax referendum fell short on valid signatures in Hawkins County

A petition drive seeking a special election to consider repeal a recent $40-per-vehicle increase in the Hawkins County wheel tax fell 127 signatures short of the number required, according to the Rogersville Review. Indeed, county Election Administrator Donna Sharp says there were more invalid signatures than valid. Advocates needed 1,095 valid signatures.

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Hargett says state law prevents him from turning over requested voter data to Trump commission

A commission set up by President Trump’s administration has asked all 50 states for a list providing the names of all registered voters along with voter information including address, date of birth, political party, the last four digits of their social security number and voter history.

Tennessee is one of at least 27 states – according to a CNN survey – that had publicly declined the request as of Friday. In an email sent to media Friday, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who oversees Tennessee’s election system, said:

“Although I appreciate the commission’s mission to address election-related issues, like voter fraud, Tennessee state law does not allow my office to release the voter information requested to the federal commission.”

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TBI investigating alleged voting violations in Bluff City elections

The TBI is investigating alleged voting law violations in the May 16 Bluff City municipal election for mayor and seats on the Board of Aldermen, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus requested the TBI investigation after receiving information on possible election irregularities during the May election.

…”On June 19, I requested the TBI to conduct an investigation into the allegations,” Staubus said. “When the investigation is complete, I will review it and determine what action needs to be taken.”

Sullivan County Administrator of Elections Jason Booher said his office referred the matter to Staubus.

“It is the policy of the Sullivan County Election Commission to refer all perceived or alleged allegations of criminal behavior related to an election to the district attorney,” Booher said. “The integrity of elections are held to the highest standard in Sullivan County. I am not at liberty to comment on any matter that has been referred to the district attorney.”

TBI Spokeswoman Leslie Earhart confirmed the investigation and said no further comment would be issued because the investigation is active and ongoing.

Note: In the election, Mayor Irene Wells won another term with 138 votes to 130 for Carolyn Harris Payne and 35 for Cathryn Michelle Woomer, according to the county election commission website. Incumbent Aldermen Ray Harrington and Richard Bowling also won new terms.

Witness tampering added to charges in Monroe County vote buying cases

Witness tampering has been added to the list of  federal charges against Brian “Wormy” Hodge, who is accused of buying votes to help Randy White get elected Monroe County sheriff in 2014, reports the News Sentinel.

 Hodge was initially indicted in February on charges he recruited now-confessed chronic vote buyer Betty Jane Best to funnel money he supplied to voters willing to cast their ballots for White and help those voters use the absentee ballot process to do so.

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Low turnout in House District 95 early voting

Only 2,535 people cast ballots in early voting on choosing a successor to former state Rep. Mark Lovell, Shelby County Election Administrator Linda Phillips tells the Commercial Appeal. That’s 4.9 percent of registered voters in House District 95.

Of those voting early, 2,313 voted in the Republican primary and just 222 in the Democratic primary.

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Senate votes to repeal voter ‘selfie’ ban violated by Justin Timberlake

State senators voted unanimously Thursday to repeal the law Justin Timberlake famously violated last year and allow “selfie” pictures to be taken at polling places.

Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey noted in brief remarks on the Senate floor that Timberlake made “national and international news” by taking a picture of himself while voting “in my hometown of Germantown” and posting it on the Internet.

The celebrity entertainer said later he did not realize he was violating a state law, which was passed in 2015 with Kelsey as Senate sponsor. He was not prosecuted.

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West TN alderman indicted for voter fraud

News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

MEMPHIS – An investigation by Special Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has resulted in the indictment of a Moscow City Alderman on charges of violating election laws. 

At the request of 25th District Attorney General Mike Dunavant, on November 1, 2016, TBI Special Agents began investigating Virgil Jones on complaints of election law fraud. Jones is an Alderman for the city of Moscow, in Fayette County. During the course of the investigation, Agents developed information that while Jones does own property in Moscow, his actual residence is in Whiteville, in Hardeman County, and he listed the fraudulent address on elections records for the purpose of running for the Alderman position. Additionally, a review of election records indicates that while Jones has lived in Whiteville, he has been a registered voter in Moscow and has voted there for numerous elections.

On Monday, the Fayette County Grand Jury returned indictments charging  Virgil Jones (DOB 8/11/1964) with one count of False Entry on Official Registration or Election Document, one count of Perjury and False Statement on Official Election Documents, and five counts of Voter Fraud. Jones turned himself in to TBI Special Agents on Tuesday and was booked into the Fayette County Jail. His bond was set at $10,000.

Rep. Favors in House floor speech: Let my 94-year-old mother vote

State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, celebrated her mother’s 94th birthday on the House floor Thursday by pointedly telling the GOP-controlled chamber her mother can’t vote in Tennessee because of a 2011 law, reports the Times-Free Press.

“She taught school until well into her 70s and was always civically engaged,” Favors said. “Now she’s disheartened because she’s one of those individuals who was never issued a birth certificate.”

As a result, Favors said, her mother is “unable to obtain a photo identification license so that she can vote” under state law. “She loves Tennessee and is a citizen. And we hope she will be afforded the opportunity to vote before she transitions from this life.”

Favors said it’s not just her mother who has problems. A number of Tennessee senior citizens face similar issues, which is why she is offering a bill to remedy the situation, the lawmaker said.

She said when her grandmother gave birth to her mother back in 1923, it wasn’t in a hospital. Family members and neighbors attended the birth.

“They wouldn’t even let us in the hospital then,” said Favors, who is black. “It wasn’t even a midwife.”

There are a dwindling number of other Tennessee seniors facing similar problems, she said.

Favors’ bill (HB184)is pending in the House Local Government Subcommittee. It seeks to make it easier for Tennesseans age 65 and older to meet requirements to obtain official photo identification issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

The safety department issues non-driver’s license photo IDs as well as driver’s licenses. Those and other state ID, like a handgun-carry license or federally issued photo ID such as a passport, are required to show at Tennessee polls under the voter ID law passed after Republicans assumed control of the entire General Assembly six years ago.

On voter fraud: A federal indictment; reward bill gets House sub OK

A federal indictment accuses an alleged Monroe County marijuana dealer and a Loudon County man of paying 13 people for their votes in the 2014 U.S. Senate primary election. Meanwhile, a House subcommittee Tuesday approved a bill that would provide a $5,000 reward to persons who provides information leading to a conviction for voter fraud.

From the News Sentinel:

Betty Jane Best and Brian Keith “Wormy” Hodge were arraigned Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley Jr. in U.S. District Court on a 14-count indictment charging the duo with conspiracy to buy votes and 13 counts of actually paying for the votes in the August 2014 U.S. Senate primary in Monroe County.

Best, who is also known as Betty Hawkins, is already under indictment in Monroe County on charges she sold marijuana. Her relationship to Hodge, who listed an address in Loudon County in court records, is unknown.

…According to the indictment, Best and Hodge conspired “with others known and unknown” to the grand jury – standard language in a conspiracy case – to buy votes in the primary that would leave U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander as the Republican candidate and veteran attorney Gordon Ball as the Democratic candidate in the November general election. Alexander bested Ball (in the general election).

The indictment does not indicate which candidate or candidates benefited from the vote buying or the price paid. It does list the 13 individuals who allegedly received the money.

The voter fraud reward bill (HB686), sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, was approved on voice vote Tuesday in the House Local Government Subcommittee. The measure raises the fine for those convicted of voter fraud by $5,000 while providing a reward of the same amount to persons providing information leading to a conviction.

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