Saturday, August 26, 2006

GOP activist faces charge

Ward accused of voter fraud in election won by one ballot
By Lela Garlington
August 26, 2006

Outspoken Tipton County political activist Shirley Johnson Ward, who is president of the Tennessee Federation of Republican Women, has been charged with a single felony count of voter fraud.

Ward, 60, of Covington is accused of making "false entries on official registration or election documents" by knowingly voting in the wrong Tipton County Commission race. That race, where one candidate was elected by one vote, is being contested because of voting irregularities.

Ward could not be reached for comment Friday at her home or at the attorney's office where she works as an officer manager and paralegal.

Prosecutors filed the complaint with an affidavit by a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation special agent late Thursday in the Tipton County General Sessions Court Clerk's office. Outgoing Dist. Atty. Gen. Elizabeth Rice asked TBI to look into the case shortly after the Aug. 3 election.

The affidavit indicated Ward announced to election office employees after casting her ballot during early voting on July 14 that she had voted in the wrong district. Her statement was the basis of papers being filed to contest the outcome in the District 2 County Commission race.

Billy Dan Huggins, an investigator with the public defender's office, lost one of the two District 2 seats by one vote to John Arnold McIntyre Jr. The district boundaries include most of Covington. After counting the paper ballots filed in the race, McIntyre had 559 votes to Huggins' 558 votes. Thomas A. Dunavant with the Covington Fire Department received the most votes in the race with 857 votes. The two candidates getting the most votes in the district are elected.

"I lost the election by one vote," Huggins said Friday. "This incorrect vote came into play as far as I'm concerned. It's a possibility her vote could have cost me a tie."

The news of Ward facing a felony charge, however, surprised Huggins. "I didn't think it would go this far. I thought she might be reprimanded or possibly would have lost her voting privileges. I just think a felony arrest is a little bit much but the law is the law."

If convicted, Ward is facing one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $3,000. Ward turned herself in Thursday afternoon at the Tipton County Justice Complex. She was released without having to post bond. She is scheduled to make her initial court appearance Sept. 5.

Julie Byrd, chairman of the Tipton County Democratic Party, said that she was astounded, aghast and shocked by the charge. Byrd, an attorney, said she doesn't delight in the misfortune of others and does not think the charge against Ward is a partisan issue. However, she added, "I think it tarnishes the electoral process."

Neil Bell, chairman of the Tipton County Republican Party, said, "I'm neither surprised or shocked by the charge. I will be disappointed if I find out that the behavior really occurred."

During the August election, a number of candidates were upset that Ward and her son, Jeffrey Ward, handed out thousands of fliers listing endorsements from what was called the South Tipton Republican Club and Team GOP. The club is not under the authority or auspices of the state Republican Party and often is at odds with the Tipton County Republican Party. The county races are nonpartisan.

None of the club's endorsed candidates won any of the local elections. Recently Republican party officials met in Munford and heard complaints about the endorsements, but no action has been taken.

Regarding his civil lawsuit challenging the election, Huggins said he is asking for a run-off election that could be held during the November general election. A special chancellor from Dyersburg will hear the civil case, but no date has been set for such a hearing. Both the existing chancellor and the incoming chancellor are recusing themselves from hearing the matter. Huggins said he is waiting for the county to respond to his lawsuit.
-- Lela Garlington: 529-2349

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