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Irregularities found with 28% of district ballots

Staff writers

Call it representation without taxation.

A Record investigation has revealed that more than one-fourth of the people who voted in an election last month for officers of Cottonwood Valley Drainage District are not, as required by law, owners of property taxed by the district.

Whether the voters are ineligible or simply haven’t been billed properly for property taxes isn’t clear.

Most, like Marion Mayor David Mayfield, own property that extends from Marion’s hill to the center of Luta Creek in the valley. Such property logically might be included in the district.

However, tax records indicate these voters’ properties are not coded to pay district taxes even though the owners are included on a list of authorized voters.

Most live on the west side of Elm St. or the west side of the 500 and 600 blocks of S. Lincoln St.

Their properties are not the only ones extending from the hill to the center of the creek in the valley. However, others owning such property are neither taxed nor included on the voter list.

Compounding the problem, one person on the list, Michelle Looper, a clerk in the county’s election office, owns property that not only isn’t coded to pay district taxes but also is on the wrong side of Elm St. to extend to the center of the creek.

Moreover, these aren’t the only anomalies discovered in the Record’s investigation of voting records.

In some cases, individuals without clear authorization cast votes on behalf of corporate or organizational property owners. Both husbands and wives who jointly own property were allowed to vote when it appears that only one vote is allowed per property.

County clerk Tina Spencer, who is in charge of elections in the county, said state statutes gave property owners a vote.

“Poll workers have a separate poll book that has a list of names,” Spencer said.

A voter must request a drainage district ballot, and if the voter’s name appears on the list, he or she receives the ballot.

Voters should be people who are taxed by the district, which has a tax rate of 3.306 mills.

“That’s kind of the problem with this kind of election,” Spencer said. “The statutes aren’t very clear.”

Among votes cast, 28% were cast by self-styled representatives of organizations, by people who do not live on property that is included in the district, or by people whose property is not taxed by the district.

One vote was cast by a member of Valley United Methodist Church. How it was decided who could cast the vote on behalf of the church is unclear.

Spouses Jami and David Mayfield both voted, as did Margaret and Rex Wilson, and Randy and Rachel Collett — generating two votes per property.

District taxes are charged only for the Colletts’ property. No district taxes are charged on the Mayfields’ property or the Wilsons’ property.

“I was informed earlier that some were questionable,” Spencer said. “If there are any that are incorrect, those will be adjusted.”

She said only one to three questionable voters had been reported and that her office also had made changes on tax rolls.

“We’re actually in charge of the tax districts in our office,” she said.

The county earlier paid for a digital mapping project to check original boundaries adopted when the drainage district was established in the 1920s, before Luta Creek was realigned in some areas.

“That was to get an accurate taxing map,” she said.

Her office will be looking again, to ensure everything is in alignment.

“There may be a little shift on the voting district,” she said.

Last modified Dec. 16, 2021

 

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