Ford returns to federal court trying to keep Senate seat

Ophelia Ford
Ophelia Ford

State Sen. Ophelia Ford asked a federal judge Monday to step in for a second time to keep the Senate's Republican majority from putting her out of office.

With such a move, Ford said, the Senate would violate an order issued in February by Judge Bernice Donald requiring senators to spell out consistent, statewide standards for invalidating ballots before overturning an election.

The Senate is expected to vote this week on the recommendation of an investigative committee to nullify Ford's 13-vote victory over Republican Terry Roland in a special election in Memphis in September.

Ford, a Democrat, contends the Senate would violate her constitutional rights and the rights of other voters to due process of law if allowed to nullify results of the District 29 election.

Senate Republicans tried to overturn the election in February, contending widespread voting irregularities, but Donald stopped them.

Ruling on a lawsuit filed by Ford and several voters from her district, Donald said the Senate had not applied statewide standards for invalidating ballots.

A Senate committee, which began investigating the election before Donald's ruling and has continued since, said Thursday that it had found at least 12 votes cast by ineligible voters.

Two of those votes were cast in the names of dead people. Seven votes were cast by felons, the committee said, and others came from people living outside District 29.

Ford said in her new petition, however, that the Senate has failed to establish the standards required by Donald for invalidating ballots and has offered inadequate opportunity for challenged voters to defend their eligibility.

Ford asked Donald to issue a new order barring the Senate from nullifying the election.

The petition also noted that the Senate committee called for throwing out 12 votes "in an election won by Sen. Ford by 13 votes."

"... Tennessee requires that the number of illegal ballots must be the margin of victory, 13 votes," the petition said.

Senators wanting to overturn the election contend a new one can be ordered if widespread wrongdoing is found, regardless of how many improper votes were tallied.

Ford contends the ballot problems with her election are common throughout Tennessee and no evidence of organized fraud has been presented. Ford has not been accused of wrongdoing.

In her petition, Ford also asked for an order telling the Shelby County Commission not to vote on seating an interim senator. If the District 29 seat is declared vacant, the county commission, which has a Republican majority, would appoint a senator until an election could be held.

District 29 was represented by Ford's brother, John Ford, for more than 30 years. He resigned last year after his indictment on public corruption charges in the Tennessee Waltz scandal.