FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Magoffin County judge executive's election last year was so corrupt that Kentucky's second-highest court declared Friday that they don't know who won, throwing the results out and declaring the office vacant.
The 2-1 decision upholds an earlier circuit court ruling that highlights eastern Kentucky's 100-year history of vote buying in local elections. If the decision stands, it would likely trigger a special election in November.
"We are not sure which candidate won the election, but we know who lost — the voters of Magoffin County who were entitled to confidence in the fairness and integrity of their election," Judge Irv Maze wrote for the majority. "We hope that requiring an entirely new election will restore their faith."
John Montgomery was leading incumbent Charles "Doc" Hardin when votes from the county's precincts were tallied on election night last November. But Hardin had a decisive advantage in absentee ballots, pushing him ahead by 28 votes. Montgomery sued, offering evidence that four people were paid for their votes and others were offered gravel and other road improvements in exchange for their support.
"The evidence of vote buying and vote hauling is particularly disturbing considering the history of such misconduct in Magoffin County," Maze wrote. "Even though the evidence of vote buying was limited to a few particular instances, the open conduct of those instances suggests a far more pervasive practice."
Hardin's attorney, James L. Deckard, said Hardin can remain in office while the case is on appeal. He declined to comment further. If there is a vacancy, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear could appoint someone ahead of a special election this November.