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What happens if an incarcerated Metro Council candidate wins their election?

Metro Council Hearing by J. Tyler Franklin, Louisville Public Medi
Photo by J. Tyler Franklin
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Kentucky law requires candidates running for Louisville Metro Council to be at least 18 years old, qualified to vote — and to reside in the district they seek to represent for at least a year immediately prior to election. 

Quintez Brown will be on the ballot next month as an Independent for the Council’s District 5 seat. But since the spring he’s been in federal custody at a Grayson County facility, awaiting trial for allegedly trying to shoot Democratic mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg in February.

Erran Huber, a spokesperson for the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office, said candidates are responsible for making sure they meet eligibility qualifications. 

“The Jefferson County Clerk’s Office facilitates the free, fair and secure election process for primary, general and special elections. However, the office does not serve in a gatekeeping capacity, nor does it police the filings,” Huber said in an email. 

He added that candidates in violation of eligibility requirements remain on the ballot unless an area constituent or an opposing candidate successfully challenges their standing in court. That happened in the District 1 race ahead of the primary election in May.

“They are only removed from the ballot if that is the decision stemming from the Circuit Judge or Court of Appeals,” Huber said. “All persons accused of a crime are considered innocent until proven guilty.” 

People can’t hold public office in Kentucky if they’re convicted of a crime and incarcerated for it. However, Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order in 2019 to automatically restore certain civil rights for those convicted of non-violent felonies: the rights to vote and hold office. People convicted of violent crimes must apply to get their rights restored

Once elected to office, state eligibility rules also require Metro Council members to continue living in the district they represent throughout their term. 

Brown’s permanent address is in District 5, but council members could view his incarceration in Grayson County as a violation of the state’s residency requirement for local government candidates. According to the body’s rules, that’s grounds for removal. Council members can also remove a colleague for issues including misconduct, incapacitation or willful neglect of the position’s duties. 

An Independent candidate has never been elected to serve on Louisville Metro Council. In 2010, the body appointed Independent Deonte Hollowell to fill a vacant seat after District 6 Council Member George Unseld died. Later that year, Democrat David James won a special election to carry out the rest of Unseld’s term, and has held the position since. He is now serving his fourth consecutive one-year term as president.

Brown is vying for the seat against Democratic incumbent Donna Purvis, who’s represented District 5 since 2019. He does not have an active campaign presence and has not reported any political fundraising to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. 

Removing a council member

Successful Metro Council candidates who violate eligibility rules aren’t automatically expelled or replaced with the opposing candidate on the ballot.

There’s no precedent for how Metro Council would navigate through Brown’s specific circumstances, but there are processes in place to remove members of the body.

First, five sitting members have to bring written charges against the representative in question,  then at least two-thirds of the body must vote to remove them. President James said the last time that happened was in 2017, following multiple sexual harrassment allegations against the District 21 representative. 

“Dan Johnson was the last person that happened with,” James said. “That process…I'm trying to think back. That was a three-month process, if I remember correctly.” 

James declined to comment specifically about Brown’s candidacy.

While the person could appeal the expulsion in court, once Metro Council members remove a colleague, state law bans that person from running for or holding office until the following term

James said the process to fill vacant council seats is different from a typical election and more like a job interview. Anyone who meets state and local requirements can apply, then council members assess the applicants and select a replacement.  

Earlier this year, the council went through the process after Beshear appointed former District 1 Council Member Jessica Green to a Jefferson County Circuit Court judgeship

“There were a lot of people that sent us emails and made phone calls saying, ‘Hey, you should pick so-and-so,’” James said. “But in [Green’s] particular instance, the council felt that it was important that the people of the district pick the person to fill the seat.”

James said council members chose Democrat Angela Bowens to temporarily fill the position with the goal of not influencing November’s election, when the seat will be filled for a full term. Only one candidate, Democrat Tammy Hawkins, is running for that position.

“Once the seat is vacated, we have 30 days to appoint a new person. If we fail to do that, then the mayor gets to do it,” James said. “We had public hearings and let people come in and be interviewed by the council. And then the council decided on who they were going to pick to fill that seat until the next election.”

While constituents can reach out to district representatives with feedback about candidates, they don’t get to vote for the replacement. However, if a vacant council seat is filled early in the term, the body holds a special election at the next available opportunity, during which residents get to choose who they want to represent them. This happened in 2010 with Unseld’s seat and in 2015 after then-Council President Jim King died.

The deadline to register to vote in Kentucky is Oct. 11 at 4 p.m. local time. You can register online, or print and complete a physical application to either mail to or drop it off at your local County Clerk’s Office.

 

 

Yasmine Jumaa is LPM’s race and equity reporter. Email Yasmine at yjumaa@lpm.org.