published Friday, July 25th, 2014

DA follows up on Polk vote-buying complaints

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    Steve Crump
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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REPORT VOTER FRAUD

Voters in the 10th Judicial District who are intimidated or solicited to sell their votes are asked to call 423-752-2179.

The new 10th Judicial District attorney general sent his own investigator and a TBI agent to the Polk County Election Commission office Wednesday to look into allegations of vote-buying and voter intimidation during early voting.

DA Steve Crump said Thursday his office has received "numerous complaints" from Polk residents of election-related shenanigans, so he asked the investigators to look into things. He said they talked to a number of people and will be following up on what they learned.

"They will continue talking to folks and looking at things until we are convinced the reports are unfounded or someone is breaking the law," Crump said.

He said he could not provide specifics about the allegations.

The vote-buyers were said to be offering $15 or a Xanax tablet, but that could not be confirmed Thursday.

Steve Gaddis, Polk County elections administrator, said the agents didn't talk with him about vote-buying specifically.

Gaddis said Polk residents are setting records for early voting this year. The sheriff's race between Democrat Rocky King and Republican Steve Ross, both veteran lawmen, is the hot contest, Gaddis said.

"They [investigators] just came through and offered their services and wanted to know if we were having any special troubles," he said. "We talked about boundary lines, and they wanted to know if any voters were being harassed or anything."

State law says candidates must keep themselves and their signs at least 100 feet from the entrance to a polling place. Candidates and their supporters often gather outside for a little last-second campaigning with voters headed to the polls.

Karen Bracken, who is running for the District 2 Polk County Commission seat, saw the investigators arrive Wednesday.

"We were standing greeting voters as they were coming in. These two very distinctive gentlemen walked up dressed in beautiful suits. You could tell they were not from here," she said.

"I said, 'Hi, you look really nice. Are you here to vote?' One said, 'No, I'm from the TBI' and the other said 'I'm from the DA's office.'"

She said the men spent a while in the election commission office but didn't speak to or question her group.

Crump said he hasn't heard of any voting problems in the 10th District counties of Bradley or McMinn. He said earlier allegations of vote-buying in Monroe County were investigated by the TBI and were determined to be unfounded.

But he said voters who are approached or harassed should call his office and report to his investigator, Calvin Rockholt. Attempting to intimidate voters or buy votes is a criminal offense and felony charges are possible, he said.

"The folks up there are entitled to fair elections, and we intend to do what we can to get to the bottom of it," Crump said.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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