- Associated Press - Monday, April 13, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - On election day in Magoffin County, Jerry Adams said his second cousin drove him to the local Save-a-Lot and gave him $25 to vote for Michael “Doc” Hardin for county judge executive - a key office that controls a lot of jobs in this economically depressed area.

Hardin would go on to win the election by 28 votes over Republican challenger John Montgomery. But Montgomery would challenge the results in court, and in February a circuit court judge took the unusual step of declaring the office vacant after ruling that Adams and at least three others were paid for their votes while other voters benefited from property improvements from county workers prior to the election.

Tuesday, the state Court of Appeals will weigh whether to uphold that decision in a case that displays eastern Kentucky’s century-old history of vote-buying in local elections. State and federal officials have a number of election fraud cases every year, so many that the Attorney General’s office audits election results of randomly selected counties each year and state and federal officials monitor elections through the Kentucky Election Integrity Task Force.

“When a lot of the jobs in the county are controlled by these local elected officials, that breeds the potential for some people to think they need to resort to this kind of fraud because of the stakes involved,” said Joshua Douglas, an election law expert at the University of Kentucky.

This is the second time Montgomery has sued Hardin over election results that Montgomery claimed were fraudulent due to vote buying. He also filed a lawsuit over a close election against Hardin for county judge executive that he lost in 2010. While a judge found evidence of vote-buying in that election, and a jury convicted a man of buying votes in the election, the judge declined to void the results, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported at the time.

Hardin did not face any charges of wrongdoing in that election, and he has denied any wrongdoing in response to the latest lawsuit.

His lawyer, James L. Deckard, filed a brief with the court arguing there is no evidence that Hardin had anything to do with buying votes. Deckard said three of the people the court ruled had been paid for their votes were “seriously mentally challenged.” Adams, one of the three identified by Deckard, said at trial he is easily confused and draws supplemental security income benefits because of mental problems.

The judge ruled the county workers, acting on Hardin’s orders, placed gravel illegally on private property four or five times close to election day. But Hardin says the work was done to fix previous county road work or to maintain county-owned roads.

“I categorically deny any wrongdoing,” Hardin said. “I did not provide any inducements for people to vote, either private or public.”

Of the 226 calls to the Kentucky’s Election Fraud Hotline on election day, 17 were for vote buying and seven of those came from Magoffin County, the most of any county in the state. The Attorney General’s Office continues to investigate the county’s election, according to court documents.

Eastern Kentucky has a long history of vote buying cases dating back to the early 19th century. Most recently, former judge Cletus Maricle along with former school superintendent Doug Adams and election official William Stivers pleaded guilty to buying or stealing votes in 2002, 2004 and 2006. And in 2012, former Breathitt County Schools Superintendent Arch Turner was sentenced to two years in federal prison for buying votes for candidates he favored in the 2010 primary elections. He was one of 11 others, including a former sheriff, who were either convicted or pleaded guilty in related cases.

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