Attorney's letter | Story background" />

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Attorney: Kilgores' mother should resign

State police are investigating allegations of absentee voting abuse in a local election last May. The lawyer says Willie Mae Kilgore should resign as registrar. Attorney's letter | Story background

As the mother of twins running for governor and state legislator, and as the head of a registrar's office tainted by allegations of election fraud, Willie Mae Kilgore found herself in a political hot seat Wednesday.

Kilgore should resign as Scott County registrar "to avoid the appearance of impropriety," attorney Gerald Gray wrote in a letter to the registrar.

Gray represents Rex McCarty, who is seeking the House of Delegates seat held by Kilgore's son Terry. As Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, seeks re-election in November, twin brother and former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore will probably be the Republican candidate for governor.

"I know that you are very proud of them, and want to help them win their elections in any way you can," Gray wrote in a letter to Willie Mae Kilgore dated Wednesday. "However, your position as voter registrar requires that you be completely impartial in the performance of your duties."

The registrar's ability to remain impartial, Gray maintained, has been called into question by last May's disputed election for Gate City Town Council. State police are investigating allegations of absentee voting abuse.

"The cloud of that investigation also throws an unfavorable light on your office," Gray wrote.

Willie Mae Kilgore declined to comment in detail Wednesday.

Wednesday's letter was not the first criticism of Kilgore's office made by Gray, a former Dickenson County commonwealth's attorney. Gray also represents Mark Jenkins, who filed a legal challenge to the Gate City town elections after losing the mayor's race by just two votes.

A three-judge panel threw out the election results, and Jenkins was named mayor by a town council appointed by the judges.

Technically, the reason for the election's being voided was that poll workers failed to follow proper procedures for 10 voters whose eligibility was in question. Those 10 votes could have altered the election's outcome, the judges found.

Although the judges' order did not comment specifically on Willie Mae Kilgore's role in the election, both Gray and Jenkins have said the registrar's office was responsible for some of the abuses.

In depositions taken last summer as part of Jenkins' challenge, one witness testified that the registrar encouraged her to lie about her reasons for voting by absentee ballot in the town election.

Two other witnesses testified that Kilgore was present when they were escorted into the registrar's office by a candidate for town council and told how to vote. Roger and Patricia Chapman also said in depositions that they were told to lie about their reasons for voting by absentee ballot that day.

In the past, Kilgore has defended herself against the allegations. She can't be held responsible for voters who perjure themselves on absentee ballot applications, she said. As for allegations that her office allowed the abuses, and claims that it favors Republican candidates, Kilgore blames political opponents.

"I think it's because I have a son who is going to run for governor," she said in February when asked about all the controversy surrounding the Gate City election. Gray ran for commonwealth's attorney as a Democrat and remains active in the party.

Reached at her office Wednesday, Kilgore said she had not received Gray's letter. She first declined to comment, then said she serves at the pleasure of the Scott County Electoral Board.

Copies of the letter were sent to the three-member board, as well as to the secretary of the State Board of Elections in Richmond. None could be reached for comment.

McCarty, the former publisher of Scott County's weekly newspaper, the Virginia Star, announced his candidacy to run against Terry Kilgore on Wednesday. McCarty said that while he has concerns about Willie Mae Kilgore's remaining registrar through the election, he would not object to her stepping down temporarily with pay and resuming her duties after Nov. 8.

Terry Kilgore, who has represented Lee and Scott counties and parts of Washington and Wise counties in the House of Delegates since 1994, could not be reached for comment.