Secretary of state: Smith to appear on ballot despite felony

LITTLE ROCK — The office of Secretary of State Mark Martin on Wednesday directed Crittenden County election officials to place Fred Smith’s name on the ballot as a state House candidate despite his conviction last year for felony theft.

Smith, a former Harlem Globetrotter who lives in Crawfordsville, filed last week to run as a Democrat for the District 50 House seat that he resigned from last year after his conviction in Chicot County Circuit Court.

Prosecutors said the Dermott School District issued duplicates of a $29,250 payment to a nonprofit organization run by Smith, and he cashed both payments.

On Tuesday, the state Democratic Party asked the secretary of state’s office to keep Smith’s name off the ballot, saying that as a convicted felon he is ineligible to serve. The party said that when he filed his paperwork Smith claimed his conviction had been expunged, but party officials later learned that no expungement order had been issued.

The secretary of state’s office asked the party to support its request with legal citations and said it would wait a day to transmit ballot information to Crittenden County. On Wednesday, the party said in a letter to Martin that Arkansas Code 7-7-201(b)(4) gives the party the right to process its candidates’ applications and that the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in Hill v. Carter in 2004 that parties have the authority to determine the qualifications of their prospective candidates.

The secretary of state’s office found those arguments insufficient, saying in a letter Wednesday to Democratic Party Chairman Will Bond that the party already certified Smith and cannot take the certification back.

“This office respectfully believes that Arkansas law does not permit a political party to unilaterally change its previous certification to this office,” Director of Elections Martha Adcock said in the letter.

Adcock cited several rulings in which she said the state Supreme Court has held that a party does not have the authority to determine that a candidate is ineligible to hold public office and cannot refuse to place a candidate’s name on the ballot.

She also cited Hill v. Carter, saying the court said in that case that after a party has certified a candidate as meeting its filing requirements, the appropriate procedure for the party, if it wants to remove the candidate’s name from the ballot, is to file a petition in court for a determination of eligibility.

Democratic Party spokeswoman Candace Martin said Wednesday the party would consider its options.

“It’s disappointing that the secretary of state’s office has refused to work in this regard and save tax dollars and act in accordance with the law, but we’ll continue to work through this situation,” Martin said.

Alex Reed, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said officials are simply trying to ensure that they do not deprive Smith of his constitutional right to due process after the party certified him — however much the party may wish to reverse that action.

“Hindsight’s 20-20, I guess,” Reed said. “I’d like to do a lot of take-backs in my life.”

A phone call to Smith on Wednesday was answered by a recording saying his voicemail was full.

Democrat Hudson Hallum, who was elected to the District 50 seat after Smith resigned, is seeking re-election. No Republican filed for the seat.