The district attorney's office has turned over alleged fraudulent signatures on petitions seeking the recall of Councilman Chris Anderson to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
"We did receive a request from the district attorney general to investigate the Chris Anderson recall election last week," said Josh DeVine, the TBI’s new public information officer. "The election administrator had previously reported to the DA the presence of several hundred suspect signatures on the petition."
The petition drive, led by Charles Wysong, failed to gather the necessary signatures of registered voters in the district. Mr. Wysong on Tuesday night told City Council members, "There was no fraud involved. It was simply a matter of people making mistakes."
He said there might have been cases "where a wife would sign for her husband who was not at home." He said specific instructions were given that one person could not sign for another.
Mr. Wysong said there would be no way that a fraudulent recall could be successful. He said, "You can't get one by the Election Commission."
Kerry Steelman, election administrator, said he turned over copies of signatures that were ruled invalid to the district attorney's office.
He said that the Election Commission itself has not taken a position on the issue.
Anderson attorney Stuart James said he understands that the petitions "are under lock and key" at the election office.
He wrote this letter asking for an investigation:
To The Members of the Hamilton County Election Commission:
Since I have been involved in politics I have always felt that the Hamilton County Election Commission is charged with insuring fair, open and honest elections. This duty, based upon conversations with various members of the Commission over the years, is to protect the integrity of the election process, and the integrity of the vote. Therefore, the Commission is charged with the duty of protecting the vote, the voters, and the integrity of the electoral process. This duty extends to the gathering of signatures for any ballot initiative or recall that may occur as a part of the election process.
I have spoken with Kerry Steelman. Based upon those conversations, I know he takes his duty to protect our vote seriously. He has expressed a desire to protect the integrity of the vote and his actions thus far prove he is serious in that regard.
As each of you know there are questions surrounding the integrity of the recall petitions involving Chris Anderson. We understand there are suspected forgeries surrounding the petitions and that Mr. Steelman now has those petitions under lock and key.
On May 8, 2014 I contacted Kerry Steelman and the Election Commission attorney. I wrote:
"Kerry and Rheubin:
First, Kerry, I would like to thank you for letting us know about the recall in a timely fashion. We appreciate the phone call, and the information that you are presented to us fairly and openly. I would say that for myself I look forward to working with you on future projects that involve our elections and ensuring that elections are fair and opened.
It is our understanding based on various reports that there are a number of signatures on the recall petitions that are suspected forgeries. We understand that the forgeries may constitute a significant number of signatures obtained by the recall effort. Consequently, on behalf of Mr. Anderson and the voters of this community, we would request that the Hamilton County Election Commission offices preserve all signatures for review by the appropriate personnel regarding the possible forgeries of signatures. We believe that if it is proven that any signatures are, in fact, forgeries then the recall effort has engaged in practice that undermines the trust of the electoral process and undermines the recall process in and of itself. We are currently investigating the legal ramifications of potential forgeries. Therefore, we would request that the Election Commission offices make the original petitions available for inspection. Of course, we will give proper notice of any inspection of any original petition prior to coming to the Election Commission to inspect those petitions. Of course, we know your offices by reputation and I am confident that all of the original signatures and petitions have already been preserved and are quite secure.
We have also received unconfirmed reports that the recall may petition the Election Commission members to review the voter registration numbers in Mr. Anderson's district. We understand that a petition may be filed with the Election Commission asking the commission to purge the voter polls for the purpose of reducing the number of registered voters in the district. The goal is to reduce the number of registered voters so that the recall group can have its petitions declared valid warranting a recall. If any such request is made we would respectfully request that we would be notified of the request. Such notification will allow us to respond to any request as necessary under law. Suffice it to say, if forgeries exist in the petitions that have been submitted to your offices we believe those forgeries may invalidate the entire petition process. Additionally, we do not believe purging the voter registration data after the deadline for submitting recall petitions is legally valid or can validate the petitions. In any event, if you receive any such request we know that he would provide notice to us and to all interested parties.
We would request that the Hamilton County Election Commission place the issue of fraudulent or forged signatures on its agenda. We would request the Hamilton County Election Commission to begin an investigation into possible forgeries. If the commission does not feel it can conduct such an investigation, please let us know. However, we hope that the Commission deems it appropriate to investigate the forgeries as such actions undermine the entire electoral process. We believe that it is incumbent on all of us to take appropriate action to insure that the facts are revealed surrounding the alleged forgeries. If the facts show forgeries do not exist then we have protected the electoral process. If the facts show forgeries do exist then we need to take further action to protect the electoral process.”
The issues of forgeries in this recall process is a serious one. Chris Anderson is a victim of the suspected fraudulent activity. Moreover, the voters of his district are victims of the suspected forgeries. The issue is a crucial issue needing affirmative action by the Election Commission.
We never received a response to our email above. Moreover, although we understand that this issue is being brought to the attention of Bill Cox, we also understand that there may be an attitude that since the recall failed no further action is necessary. If this is the truth, we must disagree. We disagree on behalf of our client, Chris Anderson (who is a voter) and the voters of his District and of this City. We cannot ignore the issue that almost 200 signatures may be fraudulent. This is the type of fraud that must be stopped dead in its tracks. It is the type of fraud that must be detected by the verification process each signature goes through when examined by the Election Commission staff. In fact, thanks to their excellent work this fraud is seeing the light of day.
Mr. Anderson, as a representative of his district and a voter, is respectfully requesting that the Election Commission publicly condemn any voter fraud. Moreover, we request that the Election Commission pass the appropriate resolution or make an appropriate public statement that it will do whatever action is necessary to preserve the integrity of the vote, to condemn the suspected fraudulent activity. Finally, Mr. Anderson, on behalf of the voters of his district, requests that the Election Commission make a public request of General Bill Cox’s office to determine if there is enough evidence to bring criminal charges. Such an investigation must be formally requested by the Commission in a public writing to insure that the integrity of the electoral process is preserved.
We trust that once the Commission takes action the DA’s office will act in accordance with the law. We trust that if a crime has been committed then the DA’s office will take appropriate action.
With the news of voter fraud being in the headlines over voter ID laws across this nation, we think that it is particularly incumbent on the Republican led commission to take public and affirmative action to protect the rights of the Citizens of Chris Anderson’s district. Anything less will be viewed as abandoning the Commission’s duty to preserve the integrity of the vote and the electoral process.
We hope an affirmative investigation into this issue moves forward assuring the public that their vote is sacrosanct.
Stuart F. James
James, Goins & Carpenter, PC