SALYERSVILLE - The trial continues in the Magoffin County election contest suit, which began on Monday, February 2.
The case began when John Montgomery, republican candidate for Magoffin County judge executive who lost by 28 votes to incumbent Dr. Charles Hardin, filed an election contest suit on Thursday, December 4, 2014.
The verified petition filed on December 4 named Magoffin County Clerk Renee Arnett-Shepherd, Sheriff Carson Montgomery, Susie Salyer and Justin Williams in their official capacities as members of the Magoffin County Board of Elections, as well as Hardin. On Election Day, Lisa Montgomery-Cheek did serve as a Magoffin County Sheriff’s Office representative since Sheriff Montgomery was a candidate on the November 4 ballot.
The suit states that at least 261 ballots cast and counted for Hardin in the November 4 election allegedly violated election laws.
Monday through Wednesday this week, John Montgomery’s attorney, Mark Flores with Frost Brown and Todd, called witnesses, ranging from an investigator with the Kentucky Attorney General, political consultant and campaign strategist, handwriting expert, local Board of Election members, election workers and voters.
Greg Motley with the Kentucky Attorney General’s office testified he reported to the Flat Fork precinct on Election Day, after his office had received a complaint from that location. He talked to the sheriff and republican challenger at Flat Fork, as well as looked at the voter assistance forms, noting to the workers that some forms had not been signed by the witnesses and advised them to make sure all forms are filled out correctly. He reported that both the sheriff and challenger had concerns about the other person, but that within in observation role, he did not see any illegal activity at that time.
Magoffin County Clerk Renee Shepherd was heavily questioned about election procedures, as well as if any work (gravel or otherwise) had been done on her property by County workers. She testified her office did everything they had been trained to do and believed the election was held fairly. Furthermore, she stated no Magoffin County workers had done anything on her property. A collapsing tile had been replaced in order for passage onto her road, which includes her property and a cemetery, as well as fixed a water issue down the road from her. Her husband, Larry Shepherd, testified, supporting her testimony, saying they followed their training for absentee machine voting, as well as stating county workers did work on their property.
Similarly, Democratic Commissioner of the Magoffin County Board of Elections Susie Salyer was questioned about how they handled the mail-in absentee ballots on Election Day, having her walk them through the day, from sorting the ballots by precinct, comparing signatures on the envelopes to the voter registration cards, mixing up the ballots and collecting and counting the ballots. Flores questioned whether Kentucky statutes were actually followed in the process. Salyer testified the Board did as they were trained.
A political consultant and campaign strategist gave his findings to the Court regarding potential irregularities. By analyzing statistics of past Magoffin elections, as well as surrounding and similar counties’ elections, he determined that not only did Magoffin have more absentee voting than most counties, regardless of size, but also that the results did not mirror, not even within the margin of error, the results of the precincts. For instance, he said that the absentee percentage of votes for Hardin doubled his votes in his best precinct. While there are only 39 Kentucky counties smaller than Magoffin in voter registration, Magoffin ranked 10th in the state for the number of absentee votes, he reported.
The Court heard testimony from the challenger who had talked to the Attorney General investigator, who reiterated that she had witnessed people getting assistance voting without ever asking for help, as well Hardin and McConnell signs within 300 feet of the polling place. She said she believed other poll workers were trying to intimidate her, so after talking to Motley and his partner, she didn’t speak to anyone else.
On Tuesday, the Court heard from Thomas Vastrick, an expert in the field of handwriting analysis, who testified that upon analyzing the precinct rosters from the November 2014 election, voter registration cards, absentee applications, absentee ballot inner and outer envelopes, and voter assistance forms, he was able to observe 43 signatures did not have a minimal level of characteristics of similar authorship from the Flat Fork precinct. In a supplemental report he did, he found 14 more signatures with a minimal level of similarities. In 26 instances, he said signatures of the inner flap and outer envelope for mail-in absentee ballots didn’t have even minimal similarities. Seven instances were reported of the inner envelope flap not having similarities to the ballot applications. Ten more instances were found to not have similarities between the envelope and ballot applications. While health, age and major life events could be a factor in some cases, he said, given the information he had available, he felt very confident in his report.
One voter reported that he had been offered $25 by his cousin to go vote, with the insinuation that he should vote for Hardin. The cousin reportedly took him to vote, then to Save-A-Lot’s parking lot, where his cousin got in another vehicle, then got back in their vehicle and gave him $25. He testified that he voted how he would have voted, anyway, and didn’t see anything wrong with it. Since he couldn’t read or write, he received assistance voting absentee machine at the courthouse, according to his testimony.
One man testified he gave two men a ride to the polls to help them out, while they both reported they had arrived there by other means. The two voters were unable to read or write, however, said they told the Court they had signed nothing, nor received any assistance voting, and left the polls without talking to anyone. They were seen by other voters at the Flat Fork precinct before 6:15 a.m. While reporting they went home, a county store worker reported one of them had $50, saying, “It’s Election Day!” Since they usually have no more than a few dollars, he noticed it as irregular.
Several election workers were questioned about how they assisted voters, all stating they assisted if asked. If any discrepancies were found in the voter assistance forms, they noted busy times during the day, though they thought everything had been done as they were trained.
On Wednesday, two workers who were excluded in the rehiring of county workers, took the stand. One testified to his rocky relationship to Hardin after political differences, and another testified he had been called, as a road worker, to Renee and Larry Shepherd’s property to fix a bridge, then some time later told to not do anything on the property and put it back the way it was, while on the county payroll, reportedly.
A voter reported to the Court that she had went to her usual precinct to vote on Election Day, only to be told her address had technically changed (without moving) and she needed to vote at Flat Fork. When she went to Flat Fork, they couldn’t find her, either, but registered her to vote there. While voting she was asked twice if she needed any assistance voting, telling workers “no” both times.
Two women reported they were confronted by two men about money at the courthouse around the time the results were coming in on Election Day. While one woman was related to an employee of Hardin, she said they wanted her to call her relative, who reportedly works in Hardin’s office. Their conversations had been recorded by the two women, with one sending the tape to the Attorney General, and the other to the FBI. What the men said was not allowed to be discussed in Court, however, one said she told them in response to go in the courtroom and ask Dr. Hardin for their money.
At the end of the day, the attorneys for the Board of Elections and Hardin argued no evidence pointed to wrongdoing. Montgomery’s attorney cited KRS statutes and expert testimony that he said proved election procedures had been violated.
Court will reconvene on Monday, February 9 at 9 a.m.
To be noted, many witnesses' names were omitted in this story in order to not accuse or put others at harm. Unless charges are made, those names will not be released, nor will the names of those who publicly testified against any possible wrongdoing.