HI property owners filing complaints with election commission
HOLIDAY ISLAND -- At least one Holiday Island property owner has filed a complaint with the state election commission, one more is getting ready to file, and there may be more to come.
Property owner Roxie Howard filed a complaint with the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners on Oct. 29, alleging that the Board of Commissioners has instituted a poll tax, failed to provide proper notice of its commissioner election, denied a candidate a nomination and has illegally written new election laws this year.
The complaint follows the Board of Commissioners nomination meeting on Oct. 20, when developer Tom Dees was denied a nomination to the ballot because he had not complied with an amendment commissioners made to election requirements in September that nominees must be current on assessments and utility bills by close of business on the business day before the day of nomination. The vote was close, 3-2, with Chairman Linda Graves and Commissioners David Makidon voting nay, and Commissioners Greg Davis and Ken Mills voting aye.
Dees paid his personal residence assessment bill on the day of nomination, hand-delivering it to office staff member Carrie Buchanan during a budget meeting.
The issue was discussed at the Oct. 27 commissioners' meeting, with the district's attorney, Tom Morris, present. Morris gave an opinion that the district is within its rights to deny Dees' nomination, even though the official election notice sent to all property owners does not mention the new requirements.
Morris said Dees was given "constructive notice" of the new requirements because they were passed in a HISID meeting that was open to the public.
Morris also said he does not see the new requirements as constituting a "poll tax," which is defined as requiring a voter to pay a fee to cast a ballot.
Howard questioned what statutory authority the board has to write election laws.
Morris said the state's laws are broad, and both he and District Manager Dennis Kelly spoke to the issue of "home rule," which allows local governments to be more restrictive than the state, but not less.
Howard's complaint to the state election board also contends improper notice was given because she says it disenfranchises women: the election notice envelope mailed out has only the first name on the deed, usually the husband's, listed on it, and not the wife's, although both are eligible to vote.
Curt Johnson, who lost his bid for a seat on the commission last year, said Monday he is also filing a complaint with the state.
"I believe what they did is illegal, regardless of what Mr. Morris said," Johnson said. "I believe the state needs to look at it."
But whether the state will get involved remains to be seen. Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners Director Justin Clay said he could not speak to specific complaints that had been lodged because those are kept confidential until an investigation is complete.
But he was not sure there would even be an investigation.
"I'm not sure if that falls under our jurisdiction," he said.
The commission's legal counsel, Tim Humphries, was also not entirely sure.
"We would have to start with the complaint and ask if any election laws have been violated," he said. "Generally speaking, from what I know, suburban improvement district elections are not governed by the laws [overseen by] the election commission. [Commissioners] are elected pursuant to the bylaws of the SID, but I'm not sure."
"I think it's wrong and how they're handling it is wrong," Johnson said. "I don't know that it's going to do any good because I don't know if it's timely. But I think we have to continue to try."
He said he knows of several others who are planning to file complaints.
Dees' nominator, Dr. Terry Bushay, said Oct. 27 he had no plans to pursue the matter further. Dees at that time had no comment.