Eddie Pennington, William “Jeff” Tallent and Johanna Tallent were found during a preliminary investigation of the Inspector General’s Office to have voted in the Temple election even though they lived outside the city. Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who chairs the State Board of Elections, referred to the hearing as “similar to a probable cause” hearing in which it is determined by the board whether there is enough evidence to refer the case to the Attorney General’s Office.
After explaining the facts of the cases against the Tallents and Pennington, Lee Brooks of the Office of the Inspector General recommended that the case against Jeff and Johanna Tallent be dismissed and the case against Pennington be bound over to the Attorney General’s Office. However, the board voted to send all three to the Attorney General’s Office.
Brooks explained that there were a total of 11 voters who were originally accused of voting illegally in the 2009 Temple election by not residing in the city limits. Of those, only the Tallents and Pennington were found to have voted without being qualified through residency to do so.
Brooks said the investigation found that Pennington actually lives “clearly outside the city limits of Temple” in Bremen.
Jason Bice, attorney for former Temple Mayor Lester Harmon, who lost the 2009 election to incumbent Mayor Rick Ford by three votes, explained to the board how the case came to be before them after the election was contested by Harmon, a case that was subsequently dismissed in Carroll County Superior Court due to a procedural technicality.
It was during the original election challenge that it was found that Pennington and the Tallents should not have voted in the election, Bice said.
“If it had not been for the research that the Harmons did, nothing would be changed at this point; it probably would have all been the same,” he said.
Bice joined Brooks in requesting the case against the Tallents be dismissed because “there is no reason to believe they had any wrongdoing.”
“We’re disappointed in the fact that they’re being bound over,” Bice said afterwards. “ ... But, in any event, we hope this process will help to straighten out the elections in Carroll County and the people of Temple will receive a fair election in the future.”
Asked if his client would seek to have the election overturned based on the potential findings of the Attorney General’s Office, Bice declined to comment.
Bice described Pennington as “a man with diminished capacity,” who voted using an address he no longer lived at that his family had rented years ago from the Harmons. He does have property just outside the city limits, but spends a great deal of time at his mother’s house and considers himself to live there, Bice said.
“I don’t know that he actually understood that he couldn’t vote (in Temple),” he said. “He’d been voting at this residence (for a long time) and had never changed his voting address. I don’t know that he knew he was supposed to.”
Bice recommended that Pennington’s case be dismissed because of his diminished capacity and the fact that where he lived at the time of the election is arguable. The investigator who interviewed Pennington acknowledged there did seem to be some diminished capacity, but he told the investigator that “there were some issues in Temple he wanted to vote on because his parents still lived there.”
In the case of the Tallents, Brooks said that during the investigation it was found that the Temple city limits run through their property with their house in the county and their mailbox in the city, an anomaly that Secretary Kemp called “very confusing.” The couple has always maintained that they live in the county, but after repeatedly being turned away from the county polling place and told they had to vote in the city by poll workers in past elections, they bypassed the county polling place in 2009 and went directly to the city to vote.
“In past elections, the Tallents stated that they have gone to poll workers and told them they live in the county, not the city, and were assured it would be taken care of,” Brooks said. “After several times of it not being taken care of they simply voted where they were told to vote, which was the city of Temple.”
Nathan Lee, attorney for the Carroll County Board of Elections and Registration, said that in statements he has from the Tallents’ neighbors, Jeff Tallent said he knew he wasn’t supposed to vote in the city but was going to anyway.
“He told me that he knew he didn’t live in the city and voted anyway because it was his constitutional right,” Lee said of Jeff Tallent. “We have been told by others that he specifically said, ‘I know I’m not supposed to vote in the (city) election, but I am.’”
He wasn’t present at Tuesday’s hearing, but when reached later Tuesday by The Villa Rican, Jeff Tallent denied ever having said that to his neighbors or anyone else. He said it is his position that he was registered in the city and voted there only after being repeatedly told to do so by poll workers.
Bice pointed out that the findings by the Inspector General’s Office had no substantiation to the allegation that Jeff Tallent had told anyone he knew he wasn’t supposed to vote in the city but planned to do so anyway.
The Tallents recently received new voter registration cards from Carroll County stating that they are now to vote at their county polling precinct after a hearing was held by the Carroll County Board of Elections to remove them from the city’s voter list.
“The city limits does indeed run through their property and we came to the opinion that if their house is not in the city, they probably don’t need to vote in the city,” Lee said.
Bice asked that the state board conduct an audit of city and county voter registration lists to ensure that similar cases of voters casting votes in a precinct where they don’t live doesn’t happen in the future.
Lee said this has already been done by having the county’s geographic information system (GIS) software provide a list of each municipality in the county and all streets within those municipalities. This was then cross-checked with the county’s “street file” with street addresses of each voter. The GIS maps were sent to each municipality to check to see if they knew of any discrepancies. Each street that was partly in the county and a municipality was also cross-checked with the county’s tax records to confirm voter residency.
“Outside of the Tallents, we found no other voters with any question,” Lee said.
Though no specific charges were levied against her, the state board directed Carroll County Elections Supervisor Patti Brown-Traylor to document to the Attorney General’s Office that the actions to correct voter residency errors in Carroll County described by Lee have indeed taken place by her office.
“It’s my understanding by the last comments made by the board, in respect to Ms. Brown-Traylor as the elections supervisor, they would just like us to satisfy to the Attorney General’s Office that the corrective action plan which I told the board about did in fact occur,” Lee said. “That is my understanding of what has been done and I will contact the attorney general myself and make sure we provide them with whatever they need.”
A charge that a letter circulated before the election by Temple City Councilman William Simmons was intimidating to voters was not bound over to the Attorney General’s Office.
“The letter was simply a letter supporting certain candidates in that particular election and wasn’t intimidating to anybody,” Brooks said. “We had no one come forward to say they were intimidated not to vote on behalf of that letter.”