LITTLE ROCK — State Rep. Hudson Hallum, D-Marion, resigned his legislative seat Wednesday after pleading guilty to a vote fraud charge, the Democratic Party of Arkansas confirmed.
Hallum, his father, Kent Hallum, and two West Memphis city officials pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit election fraud in the first known use of the federal Travel Act to bring charges for vote-buying in a purely local election, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
The city officials were West Memphis Councilman Phillip Wayne Carter and West Memphis police officer Sam Malone. Carter is also a Crittenden County juvenile probation officer, and Malone is on the Crittenden County Quorum Court and the Crittenden County School Board.
The charges against the four were related to allegations of vote fraud in a 2011 special election in which Hallum won a House seat vacated by Fred Smith, who had resigned after his conviction on a theft charge.
“The most fundamental right we enjoy as American citizens include the ability to vote and, if we so choose, to run for elected office,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Duke said in a release announcing the pleas. “In a nation in which every person’s vote matters, protecting the integrity of the electoral process from those who seek to win office by cheating the system is critical.”
Candace Martin, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said in an e-mail to the Arkansas News Bureau that Hallum resigned Wednesday. She referred all questions to Hallum, who did not immediately return a telephone call or e-mail for response.
Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe, said the governor’s office also had not received an official letter of resignation from Hallum Wednesday afternoon.
Hallum, who was seeking re-election, had no Republican opposition in the the Nov. 6 general election for the District 50 seat. In May, he escaped a primary challenge when a Pulaski County circuit judge ruled that Smith was unqualified to run for the seat because his theft conviction was not expunged until after he filed for office.
Smith later was nominated by the Green Party of Arkansas for the House seat and apparently will return to the Legislature.
“It appears Mr. Smith will be the lone candidate on the ballot and there is nothing we really can do,” House Speaker Robert S. Moore Jr., D-Arkansas City, said Wednesday.
Moore said he had not talked to Hallum or seen his resignation.
Smith said Wednesday he felt bad for Hallum but was “excited and looking forward” to serving in the House.
“I’m ready to move forward,” he said, thanking the Green Party for having faith in him as a candidate.
Smith will become just the second Green Party candidate elected to the Legislature. Richard Carroll of North Little Rock was elected to the House in 2008. Midway through his term he switched to the Democratic Party and he lost his re-election bid in 2010.
Smith said the Green Party “has a lot of the same values as the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, the environment and clean water, so I think we can work together.”
According to Wednesday’s indictment, Hallum and his father asked Carter and Malone in 2011 to identify absentee voters in then-House District 54 and assist them in completing their ballots. Once each ballot was completed, it was typically placed in an unsealed envelope, which was then inspected by Hallum or his father to make sure the vote had been cast for Hudson Hallum.
The ballot was then sealed and mailed to the Crittenden County Clerk’s office.
At a hearing Wednesday, the four admitted some absentee voters received $20 or free meals for the purchase of their votes, according to the indictment.
Kent Hallum, Carter and Malone could not be reached for comment.
West Memphis Mayor William Johnson and West Memphis Police Chief Donald Oaks also did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
In July 2011, the Arkansas News Bureau reported that state police were looking into allegations of voter fraud in the special election in District 54, which included the cities of West Memphis, Marion, Earle and Turrell, along with other areas of rural Crittenden County.
Democrat Kim Felker of Crawfordsville, who lost to Hallum in a runoff, claimed “there were a lot of irregularities” and alleged that a man offered to provide absentee voters to her from two West Memphis wards in exchange for money or political favors.
“I was not interested,” Felker said. “I was horrified. This is my first election. All he had to say was ‘absentee votes’ and I wanted nothing to do with it. This was in the primary.”
Felker said she became suspicious after she lost to Hallum in the runoff by eight votes. She said she received just 69 absentee votes while Hallum received 401.
Felker said she asked 2nd District Prosecutor Scott Ellington to looking into possible voter fraud and Ellington asked state police to investigate.
State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said Wednesday the agency did assist in the investigation, but he referred questions to the U.S. attorney’s office.