The day the vote-buying stopped 

In 1976, the fixers finally got tired of swapping cash and whiskey for votes in Searcy County.

This week, the Times is pleased to run an excerpt from retired Supreme Court Justice Tom Glaze's new book from the University of Arkansas Press, "Waiting for the Cemetery Vote." Read more about the book here.

A few weeks after the 1976 Democratic runoff in Conway County, I received a call from Rex Elliott of Marshall, who said he was active on the Searcy County Republican Committee. He had followed the Conway County battles in the newspapers and he thought election conduct in his county merited as much attention as Conway County's. He wondered if The Election Law Institute could undertake the same legal action at Marshall that produced stunning results in Morrilton. He described the vote-buying system and admitted that he and the Republican leadership as well as Democrats had bribed voters for years. They were tired of it and Rex thought most people wanted to have honest elections as long as everyone else was made to live by the rules, too. He gave me the names of a number of people who would tell about the vote buying and participate in a lawsuit if I would bring one like the Conway County suit. I drove up to Marshall to meet him and his wife, Fern, and the people who were ready to blow the lid off the vote-buying scheme.

Rex was an unlikely maverick. He was a friendly, easy-going bear of a man, six-foot-four and 275 pounds, who was developing an ample belly after giving up his twenty-five-year career as a long-haul truck driver and taking up the sedentary life of radio. He and Fern had a band in the '50s that performed country and western and gospel music around the country. Rex played guitar and bass and sang. Sometimes he played with Wayne Raney, the harmonica legend from Wolf Bayou north of Heber Springs. Raney performed on XERF, the big Clear Channel station at Del Rio, Texas, as Wayne Raney and the Delmore Brothers and popularized "A Fast Train Through Arkansas" and "The Del Rio Boogie." Raney was impressed with Elliott's rich-timbred voice and gift for easy gab and kept telling him to get into radio because he had known far less talented men who made it big. Elliott took his advice. He converted the garage that housed his trucks into a radio station, of which he was the owner, manager and chief on-air voice. He also got into politics, although without much personal success. He lost two races for sheriff.

Rex's friends did not seem as disquieted by the fraud as he was, or else they were distrustful of a young Little Rock lawyer who wanted them to put down on paper how they had for years violated the law. None of them would own up to ever paying for a vote or taking money or whiskey for their votes or knowing anyone who did. I told Rex that it was pointless to file a voting-fraud suit if no one was willing to testify that they had brokered votes because I was quite sure that no one on the other side, whom we would name in the suit, would admit it. Without a proffer of proof, no judge was going to entertain the complaint or our petition for a restraining order. A few days later, Rex showed up at my office in Little Rock with two longtime Republican election workers, John Eaton and Olas Taylor, who were willing to tell their stories for the record. I got a court reporter and we recorded the depositions of all three men. Rex supplied a list of dozens of people whom he personally had paid for their votes during the years he was running for sheriff, or running the vote-buying operation for the Republicans: people who distributed cash to voters for him, election judges and clerks who had voted people inside the polling place, or observed the voting and distributed the tokens. He identified Republican candidates and workers and their Democratic counterparts who pooled money for the bribes and distributed the payoffs to voters.


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