This article by Chuck Williams was published December 12, 2017 by the Ledger-Enquirer.
A Russell County Circuit Court judge has asked that the District Attorney’s Office and the Alabama Attorney General investigate potential voter fraud in a Phenix City municipal election, according to an order issued late Monday.
Vickey Carter Johnson, the top vote-getter in the Nov. 14 special election to fill the vacant District 2 council seat, filed suit in Circuit Court claiming that “illegal activity” occurred in the election. Johnson got 240 of votes cast to 225 for Baxley Oswalt and 26 for Steve Franklin.
Because Johnson did not get more than 50 percent of the votes, the election has been thrown into a Dec. 19 runoff between her and Oswalt. The ruling does not appear to impact the status of next week’s runoff election.
Since the election, Phenix City Police have investigated claims of wrongdoing and found that 80 registered District 2 voters were using business and not residential addresses, which is contrary to Alabama law that requires a voter to use his or her “domicile” when registering.
Judge Michael Bellamy held a hearing last week in which the Russell County Board of Registrars, one of the defendants, was asking the court to dismiss the complaint.
“The court finds justice requires that the petitioners request that the alleged illegal activity be investigated has merit and allegations of fraud and illegal voting shall be investigated,” Bellamy wrote.
The judge ordered the ruling sent to the attorney general and district attorney. Bellamy also directed the Board of Registrars to “cooperate in good faith with any investigation that may come regarding the alleged illegal activity.”
Bellamy noted that Phenix City Police had launched an investigation and identified that 30 of the 80 voters registered at business addresses cast ballots in the Nov. 14 election that was held after the death of Councilmember Johnnie Robinson.
“The court notes that 30 votes could be sufficient to change the election results,” Bellamy wrote.
The court ruling comes as the Phenix City-Russell County NAACP has been requesting an unbiased investigation into alleged voting irregularities in the recent election.
District Attorney Ken Davis said he reviewed the order Tuesday afternoon.
“All I can say at this time is we are going to look into it and try to decide how to proceed,” Davis said.
A lawyer from the Attorney General’s Office represented the Russell County Board of Registrars in last week’s motion to dismiss, Bellamy noted in his ruling.
“The court repeatedly asked the assistant attorney general if the Attorney General’s Office would investigate and was repeatedly told that was not her purpose for being there,” Bellamy wrote.