A Republican candidate for St. Francis County Sheriff and Collector was removed Tuesday from the ballot for the upcoming county elections.
First Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Christopher Morledge declared Gregory Todd Gray, the Republican candidate for sheriff, was ineligible to run for office and ordered the SFC Election Commission to remove his name from all ballots for the November elections.
The case, brought by SFC Sheriff Bobby May, centered around the election commission's certification of Gray for the county election. In his original lawsuit, filed Tuesday, March 13, May sued two members of the SFC Election Commission, Tammy Beck and Chris Oswalt, for voting to certify Gray as a candidate. May claimed Gray was not eligible because Gray was not a registered St. Francis County voter at the time he filed for office.
May later added Gray, Lisa Reeves in her capacity as chairperson of the SFC Republican Party, Suzanne Hess in her capacity as secretary of the SFC Republican Party, Brandi McCoy in her capacity as SFC Clerk, Frederick Freeman in his capacity as an election commission member and Chris Oswalt in his capacity as chairman and agent for service of the election commission, as parties to the lawsuit.
During the court hearing Tuesday, attorney Mike Easley, representing May, asked Gray if he was a registered voter in Tennessee. Gray responded that he believed he was still on the voter rolls. "I had never changed it, so I knew of no reason why I was still not registered to vote," he said.
According to Easley, Gray first registered to vote in Shelby County in 1988. His last time voting in Shelby County reportedly was November 2004. Easley asked if Gray had received a notification that he had been removed from the Tennessee voter rolls.
Gray said he had received no notification about being removed from the rolls, but Easley showed Gray documents indicating that he had been removed from the voter rolls.
"This that you have, I don't know where it came from…says it's canceled. I have received no notification," Gray said.
According to the Tennessee's Secretary of State's website, a voter's name can be removed from voter rolls if "the voter fails to respond to a confirmation notice, and if the voter fails to otherwise update the voter’s registration over a period of two consecutive regular November elections following the date the notice was first sent."
"If that is true, you would not have been registered anywhere in any state in the United States of America," Easley said.
According to documents from the SFC County Clerk's office, Gray later registered to vote on March 6, five days after the filing deadline.
However, Gray disputed this interpretation, saying that he had mailed in a voter registration form and was unaware of his voter status until after the filing deadline on March 1 at noon.
Gray claimed he picked up the materials necessary to run for office, including a voter registration form, from the SFC Clerk on Tuesday, Feb. 13, and that he mailed in his voter registration form on Wednesday, Feb. 14. When asked if he ever checked with the county clerk's office to confirm that he was registered, Gray said he had not checked. "My assumption was that I was a registered voter. Why would it have not gotten there?" he said.
After the filing period ended on March 1, Gray said he received phone calls informing him that there were problems with his eligibility.
"After I filed, I received a phone call that there was a problem," Gray said. "I got several phone calls, and as a result of that, I spoke with Brandi McCoy…she stated she had received three separate calls that I was not a registered voter."
Easley asked Gray why he did not file the voter registration form while he was at the county clerk's office. Gray responded that "no one mentioned" that the county clerk registered voters, and he assumed he would be registered in Little Rock. "I did not know they did not register me in Little Rock," Gray said. "I did not check into the voter registration practices…or I probably would have filled it out right there."
"You signed an affidavit under oath that you were a registered voter and you didn't check back with the county clerk's office," Easley said.
Afterwards, McCoy was cross-examined and she said her office had never received a mailed voter registration form from Gray, but she was still looking for it to come in.
During the hearing, Jesse Daggett, attorney for Gray and Reeves, argued that Gray should remain on the ballot based on similar circumstances that occurred when Leslie Rutledge ran for Arkansas Attorney General in 2014.
According to Daggett, Rutledge moved from Arkansas and while she was gone, her registration was purged. After returning, he claimed she registered to vote in Arkansas after the filing day.
According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Rutledge was registered to vote in Pulaski County since August 2006, and she registered to vote in Washington D.C. in July 2008. However, she remained on the voter rolls in Pulaski County, voting absentee in the 2008 general elections. In September 2010, she also registered in Alexandria, Va.
Her registration in Pulaski County was subsequently canceled after the county clerk discovered she was registered in multiple locations. However, Rutledge was able to file her voter registration application with the Arkansas Secretary of State.
"The point being, she registered after the filing date, where she had filed an affidavit saying she was a registered voter in the state of Arkansas," Daggett said.
However, Morledge questioned the legal authority that allowed Rutledge to proceed.
While Daggett said the Rutledge case never went to court, he said a lack of challenge to her candidacy indicated that her case was solid.
"I would rely on what our attorney general did," Daggett said. "I presume…she had opponents, and I presume whoever her opponents were agreed with whatever she did."
At the hearing's conclusion, Morledge issued a declaratory judgement that Gray was and is not an eligible candidate for the sheriff's race. He also issued a writ of mandamus instructing the SFC Election Commission to contact the Arkansas Secretary of State and remove Gray's name from the ballot. However, he instructed all parties to pay their own attorneys' fees.
After Morledge made his ruling, Oswalt said in an interview that the election commission would "follow through" on his ruling.
"One of the things I said I wanted was a judge to tell me whether someone should or should not be on the ballot. Judge Morledge ruled that Todd Gray should not be on the ballot, and we will follow through on what the judge said," Oswalt said.
May expressed satisfaction with the ruling, saying that he felt the judge had "ruled correctly and according to the law. My whole purpose of this lawsuit was to defend the constitution and the laws of the state of Arkansas. I felt that these laws were violated, and it was my duty to defend these laws."
In a phone interview, Reeves said she did not agree with the ruling but that "we will carry on from here." She added that "as of right now," she and Gray were planning to appeal the ruling.
There are only two remaining candidates for sheriff and collector – May and William Sparkmon, who are both registered as Democrats. Due to an absence of Republican candidates for sheriff, the sheriff's race will be determined by the May 22 Democratic primary.