State senators approve Dist. 29 mailing

State senators on Monday approved a mailing that will be sent to 40 voters in a disputed Memphis election to help lawmakers decide whether to void its results.

The Senate committee has declared 12 votes illegal because they were cast in the names of dead voters, felons and people who didn't live in the district. That's within one vote of Democratic Sen. Ophelia Ford's 13-vote margin over Republican challenger Terry Roland. The letters and affidavits ask 40 voters to confirm that they lived in District 29 when they cast their votes.

Newspaper notices will also be posted to those voters, plus another four whose addresses were listed at businesses or vacant lots. The cover letter tells voters that "it could be determined that your failure to return a signed affidavit is an indication that your voting residence stated on the voting records is inaccurate."

Republican Sens. Jeff Miller of Cleveland and Ron Ramsey of Blountville took issue with the word "could," arguing that the letters should say not responding would definitely lead their votes to be thrown out. Other members of the committee disagreed with that approach, noting that the letter can't bind senators from interpreting a non-return as they see fit. Sen. Joe Haynes, a Goodlettsville Democrat, said that residents who had voted for Roland could purposefully not return the letter knowing that the one vote could tip the balance against the election. Ramsey said the committee's decision not to alter the letter is a "disservice" to voters.

Ramsey stated, "They may not take it seriously and just set it aside."

The seat became open when Ophelia Ford's brother John Ford resigned last year after he was indicted on federal charges of taking a payoff. Neither candidate has been accused of any wrongdoing in the disputed election. The letters were scheduled to be sent out Tuesday, with a postmarked return deadline of April 5.

Earlier Monday, the Senate approved a measure that would require automatic recounts in elections decided by margins of 0.5 percent or less of the total votes cast. The bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, passed on a 21-8 vote. The companion version in the House is scheduled for a committee this week.

"Elections at the local and federal level are becoming more and more razor thin," Ketron said.

The House sponsor of the bill, Henri Brooks of Memphis, lost the August Democratic primary for Senate District 29 to Ford by 20 votes. The state Democratic Executive Committee rejected a challenge by Brooks and upheld Ford's victory.