Saturday, June 01, 2002

Officials investigate vote-buying

Drugs, cash allegedly traded for votes in Tuesday's primary

The Associated Press

        HINDMAN, Ky. — Authorities in Knott County are investigating reports that votes were not only bought with cash but also traded for drugs in Tuesday's primary election.

        “What it takes to get the attention of some voters now is no longer a case of beer or $10 or $15,” said Lori Daniel, an assistant commonwealth's attorney in Knott and Magoffin counties. “Now it's a handful of Oxycontin.”

        Oxycontin is a potent painkiller that addicts often abuse by crushing it to eliminate its time-release effect.

        Ms. Daniel declined to release specifics related to the allegations — but if they're true, they represent a twist on eastern Kentucky's long tradition of vote-buying.

        “For 150 years, we worried about cash and liquor, which is why we close liquor stores on election day,” Ms. Daniel said.

        Some reports were made directly to Ms. Daniel's office, she said, while others were referred by the attorney general's office.

        Statewide, the state attorney general's office received 110 complaints of vote fraud via a toll-free number on Tuesday, said Barbara Hadley Smith, a spokeswoman for the agency. During the weeks before the election, Ms. Smith said, the attorney general received 175 complaints.

        Ms. Smith confirmed Wednesday that her agency had referred complaints to Ms. Daniel's office.

        Kentucky State Police have been asked to investigate some incidents, Ms. Daniel said. A decision on whether to impanel a special grand jury will depend on the investigation, she said.

        In Clay County, a state legislator said she was approached several times by people asking for money to buy votes and haul voters for her. Rep. Barbara Colter, who lost her 90th District seat in Tuesday's election, said she declined the deals, one of which was allegedly presented to her in a phone call during the legislature's special session last month.

        Ms. Colter said that, for an amount of money that she wouldn't specify, politicians could be included on a “ticket” of candidates who received bought votes. Ms. Colter, R-Manchester, wouldn't identify even the sex of the people who made the proposals.

        “It's very dangerous what we're talking about ... and I've got children,” she said.


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