We know much more now about the peculiarities I noted in a column just more than a year ago about an election in House District 54 in Marion and West Memphis.
A special election had been called to fill a vacancy created by former Rep. Fred Smith, who resigned after a conviction of theft by receiving from an Arkansas public school. A young Democrat named Hudson Hallum was the victor in a race that drew seven candidates. His victory, as I noted then, was due largely to his margin on absentee ballots, on which he was favored by a nearly six-to-one margin in a primary runoff.
Some other folks found it peculiar, too.
Last month, a federal investigation revealed that Hallum, along with his father and two others, had engaged in a conspiracy to commit election fraud by bribing voters and corrupting the absentee balloting process. All four men pleaded guilty and Hallum resigned his seat.
Prosecutors said campaign workers collected absentee ballots and delivered them to Hallum, who would go through them and destroy those not cast for him. He also bribed voters with gifts, including chicken dinners and cheap vodka.
“We need to use that black limo and buy a couple of cases of some cheap vodka and whiskey to get people to vote,” Hallum was quoted as saying to one of his campaign workers, who then bought 100 half pints of vodka from a discount liquor store in Memphis.
I asked Hallum about the ongoing investigation in February after hearing word of the FBI subpoenaing several election officials in Crittenden County. Hallum told me he did not know anything about it and denied any wrongdoing, insisting that he just wanted to put the whole thing behind him.
But after lying for over a year, he now has a much different demeanor, apologizing for what he says were some awful choices.
“I didn’t initially really feel like what I was doing was wrong because I always heard that that’s what you do over here. As things started to progress, I started to realize that we were doing some things that were wrong and I just got wrapped up in the middle of things and I just turned away from it and allowed it to go on,” Hallum said in an interview with The Associated Press.
While commendable that Hallum, at long last, is admitting the truth after being caught red-handed, his statement should trouble those of us who seek fair and free elections. It has been long suspected that those types of absentee-ballot schemes occur in the Delta counties of Arkansas. Hallum gives those thoughts some credence.
Hallum could find redemption the way Frank Abagnale found it in the movie, “Catch Me If You Can.” Abagnale was a notorious forger wanted by the FBI. After he finally was caught, he used his knowledge to assist the FBI in catching other forgers.
It is time for Hallum to give voters more than an apology and a resignation letter. He should help put a stop to voter fraud in his region of the state, assuming it happens in other districts, and that seems obvious. An investigation of a recent election in Mississippi County, just north of Hallum’s old district, is under way.
Perhaps by helping stop the fraud from which he once benefited, Hallum could reclaim his dignity.
And a small footnote: The only other candidate in the race for Hallum’s House district this year is former Rep. Fred Smith, the guy who started the whole thing with his resignation in 2011.
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Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com