Vote probe chargeless in Arkansas township

Posted: October 31, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

A map showing the location of Shady Grove Township

A map showing the location of Shady Grove Township

A voter-fraud investigation focused on a wet-dry election in the small northeast Arkansas township of Shady Grove has yielded no criminal charges, the prosecutor's office said Monday.

Scott Ellington, the 2nd Judicial Circui9t prosecuting attorney, declined to file charges after an Arkansas State Police investigation he requested into the November 2016 election. Voters decided to continue alcohol sales, allowing a country store in the southwest Greene County township to keep selling beer and wine.

"While it appears some of those who changed their voter registration to Greene County did so illegally, I have decided that the most appropriate way to resolve this matter is with this letter," Ellington wrote in an Oct. 2 "warning" mailed to 22 people who were subjects in the investigation.

Ellington called for the investigation last year during the early-voting period after the Jonesboro Sun found new voter addresses corresponding to uninhabited mobile homes that were not connected to utilities. The mobile homes were located behind the Old Country Store, the only place in the township that sells alcohol.

A criminal case would have to prove that the newly registered voters did not "intend" to make those campers their "domicile," or full-time home, when they changed their voter registration, Ellington said. The investigation included interviews with more than 20 people whom Ellington brought in with subpoenas, he said Monday.

"I believe it's my ethical duty to only bring forward cases where we have sufficient evidence to convict," Ellington said. "And in this case, I felt like we fell short of that mark."

The Shady Grove township last year voted to keep the area "wet" by a vote of 37 to 25.

Ellington, when requesting the investigation, said the Shady Grove voter roll swelled from 71 in June 2016 to 103 in October. He said Monday that only four of the newly registered voters actually cast ballots.

The township makes up the southwestern-most tip of Greene County and covers less than a 1-mile stretch of U.S. 63 between Craighead and Lawrence counties, which are both dry. The Old Country Store sits off the highway about 14 miles northwest of Jonesboro.

Secretary of state records list the Old Country Store's agent as Bradly Hibbard. Five people with the last name Hibbard received Ellington's warning letter, including Bradly Joe Hibbard, according to a list provided by Ellington's office.

Reached by phone Monday, Danny Joe Hibbard, also listed as a letter recipient, said "no comment" and ended the call. A phone number listed for the Old Country Store was not working.

Ellington's warning letter -- which compared the situation to a driver being given a warning for driving with improper tags -- advised recipients to "familiarize" themselves with the distinction between residence and domicile.

"For several of those involved, a used camper or trailer without running water or other utilities does meet basic requirements to be a residence," it says. "Staying at a place on the weekends occasionally does not make it your domicile."

Arkansas' voter qualification law, 7-5-201, defines domicile as the place where a person's "habitation is fixed and to which he or she has the intention to return whenever he or she is absent."

Neither Ellington's office nor the state police provided a copy of the investigative file on Monday. Officials said they had not yet redacted personal information from the documents.

Metro on 10/31/2017