Vote probe in Shady Grove yields no charges

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - ERIC BESSON

A voter-fraud in­ves­ti­ga­tion fo­cused on a wet-dry elec­tion in the small north­east Arkansas town­ship of Shady Grove has yielded no crim­i­nal charges, the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice said Mon­day.

Scott Ellington, the 2nd Ju­di­cial Cir­cui9t pros­e­cut­ing at­tor­ney, de­clined to file charges af­ter an Arkansas State Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion he re­quested into the Novem­ber 2016 elec­tion. Vot­ers de­cided to con­tinue al­co­hol sales, al­low­ing a coun­try store in the south­west Greene County town­ship to keep sell­ing beer and wine.

“While it ap­pears some of those who changed their voter reg­is­tra­tion to Greene County did so il­le­gally, I have de­cided that the most ap­pro­pri­ate way to re­solve this mat­ter is with this let­ter,” Ellington wrote in an Oct. 2 “warn­ing” mailed to 22 peo­ple who were sub­jects in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ellington called for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion last year dur­ing the early-vot­ing pe­riod af­ter the Jones­boro Sun found new voter ad­dresses cor­re­spond­ing to un­in­hab­ited mo­bile homes that were not con­nected to util­i­ties. The mo­bile homes were lo­cated be­hind the Old Coun­try Store, the only place in the town­ship that sells al­co­hol.

A crim­i­nal case would have to prove that the newly reg­is­tered vot­ers did not “in­tend” to make those campers their “domi­cile,” or full-time home, when they changed their voter reg­is­tra­tion, Ellington said. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­cluded in­ter­views with more than 20 peo­ple whom Ellington brought in with sub­poe­nas, he said Mon­day.

“I be­lieve it’s my eth­i­cal duty to only bring for­ward cases where we have suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to con­vict,” Ellington said. “And in this case, I felt like we fell short of that mark.”

The Shady Grove town­ship last year voted to keep the area “wet” by a vote of 37 to 25.

Ellington, when re­quest­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, said the Shady Grove voter roll swelled from 71 in June 2016 to 103 in Oc­to­ber. He said Mon­day that only four of the newly reg­is­tered vot­ers ac­tu­ally cast bal­lots.

The town­ship makes up the south­west­ern-most tip of Greene County and cov­ers less than a 1-mile stretch of U.S. 63 be­tween Craig­head and Lawrence coun­ties, which are both dry. The Old Coun­try Store sits off the high­way about 14 miles north­west of Jones­boro.

Sec­re­tary of state records list the Old Coun­try Store’s agent as Bradly Hib­bard. Five peo­ple with the last name Hib­bard re­ceived Ellington’s warn­ing let­ter, in­clud­ing Bradly Joe Hib­bard, ac­cord­ing to a list pro­vided by Ellington’s of­fice.

Reached by phone Mon­day, Danny Joe Hib­bard, also listed as a let­ter re­cip­i­ent, said “no com­ment” and ended the call. A phone num­ber listed for the Old Coun­try Store was not work­ing.

Ellington’s warn­ing let­ter — which com­pared the sit­u­a­tion to a driver be­ing given a warn­ing for driv­ing with im­proper tags — ad­vised re­cip­i­ents to “fa­mil­iar­ize” them­selves with the dis­tinc­tion be­tween res­i­dence and domi­cile.

“For sev­eral of those in­volved, a used camper or trailer with­out run­ning wa­ter or other util­i­ties does meet ba­sic re­quire­ments to be a res­i­dence,” it says. “Stay­ing at a place on the week­ends

oc­ca­sion­ally does not make it your domi­cile.”

Arkansas’ voter qual­i­fi­ca­tion law, 7-5-201, de­fines domi­cile as the place where a per­son’s “habi­ta­tion is fixed and to which he or she has the in­ten­tion to re­turn when­ever he or she is ab­sent.”

Nei­ther Ellington’s of­fice nor the state po­lice pro­vided a copy of the in­ves­tiga­tive file on Mon­day. Of­fi­cials said they had not yet redacted per­sonal in­for­ma­tion from the doc­u­ments.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.