FBI Investigating Shelby County Election Commission

By Bill Dries

FBI agents have interviewed a Shelby County Election Commission member in what appears to be a probe of the agency that conducts local elections.

Election Commissioner Norma Lester confirmed in a mass e-mail Friday, Dec. 20, that she has been contacted by the FBI “but advised not to disclose any information.”

“I have no knowledge where the investigation is going,” she added in the written statement.

Lester twice called for the firing of Shelby County Elections Administrator Richard Holden following two state audits critical of how local elections are conducted as well as two Chancery Court decisions in favor of candidates contesting 2012 elections results.

Holden was also suspended and put on probation by the Election Commission in the wake of the 2012 election problems.

In the first court decision, all sides in a case by Millington leaders contesting the results of the 2012 sales tax referendum in Millington agreed to overturn the original certified results showing the tax question failed by three votes and instead show the tax hike was approved by voters.

The lawsuit and agreement approved by Chancellor Arnold Goldin followed instances of voters from outside Millington being allowed to vote on the sales tax question.

In the other lawsuit, Shelby County Schools board candidate Kenneth Whalum Jr. contested his loss in a 2012 school board race to Kevin Woods.

Chancellor Kenny Armstrong ordered a new election based on the same general problems, with voters within the school board district getting another district’s school board race on their ballots, and those outside the district being able to vote in the race between Woods and Whalum.

Armstrong’s order for a new election is on hold pending an appeal of the case.

Lester’s resolutions to fire Holden failed in 2-3 party line votes on the five-member Election Commission where Democrats, including Lester, are the minority party.

Holden is a former Republican Shelby County Election Commission member.

Word of the FBI activity comes the same week that Shelby County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution by Republican Wyatt Bunker expressing no confidence in Holden and calling on the local election commission to fire him.

Bunker’s resolution has prompted Memphis City Council member Myron Lowery to say that he will take a similar resolution to the council at its first meeting of the new year, Jan. 7.