Rep. David Cole resigns from Alabama House; agrees to plead guilty to voting fraud charge

Plea agreement says state representative ‘never stepped past the entry foyer’ of the home he claimed as his residence

By: - August 31, 2023 3:32 pm
David Cole, wearing a brown suit, sits at a microphone in a committee room.

Rep. David Cole questions HB 290 on Apr. 26, 2023, which would give pharmacist to prescribe and administer some vaccines. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

A state representative from Madison County will plead guilty to a charge of voting fraud, according to a plea agreement filed Thursday afternoon.

Under the terms of the agreement, Rep. David Cole, R-Madison, will plead guilty to a charge of knowingly voting at a polling place where he was not authorized to vote. Both the prosecution and defense will recommend a three-year sentence. Cole will serve 60 days in the Madison County Jail and the remainder on unsupervised probation. The agreement also requires him to acknowledge that he did not live in Alabama House District 10 when he was elected the area’s representative last year.

Cole, a medical doctor by training, resigned from the House in a letter dated Wednesday, according to the Alabama House Clerk’s office.

“Dr. Cole admits and takes full responsibility for the mistakes he made in the political process,” said a statement released by Bill Espy, Cole’s attorney. “He entered the process to serve his community. He has lived a life of service including serving for 22 years in the Army with tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt. The Cole family appreciates all the prayers and support from his friends and community during this time. Dr. Cole will continue to serve his community going forward.”

A message seeking comment was sent Thursday to the Alabama attorney general’s office, which negotiated the plea deal. Cole was charged on Tuesday.

According to the plea agreement, Cole decided to run for the House District 10 seat in the summer of 2021. The seat was held by retiring Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison. But redistricting that year moved his home into House District 4, represented by Rep. Parker Moore, R-Hartselle, an incumbent who was seeking his second term in the House.

The agreement said Cole contacted a friend, referred to as “H.S.,” and negotiated a $5-a-month lease at H.S.’s home in District 10. Cole later changed his voter registration to the address but only had mail sent there.

“Cole has never eaten or slept at H.S.’s home,” the plea agreement said. “In total, Cole has visited H.S.’ house just twice, but he has never stepped past the entry foyer.”

But the plea agreement said Cole told a member of the Alabama Republican Party’s steering committee that he had sold his old home and was living in District 10. Cole cast his votes in the Republican primary in May 2022 and in the runoff the following month in the voting precinct for his friend’s house.

The plea agreement also said Cole provided an altered copy of the original lease after questions emerged about his residency in the district. It goes on to say that Cole also provided a lease agreement for another apartment in the district, where he voted in the November general election. But on Dec. 1 of last year, the agreement says, he filled out a property tax exemption form stating he was still living in his original home in October, making the ballot he cast in November unlawful.

Cole won election last November with 52% of the vote. Democratic candidate Marilyn Lands got 45%, and Libertarian Elijah Boyd got 3% of the vote.

Cole will be the second member of the House to resign this year. Rep. Fred Plump, D-Fairfield, resigned in May after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Updated at 4:22 p.m. to reflect that Cole had submitted a letter of resignation to the clerk of the Alabama House of Representatives.

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Brian Lyman
Brian Lyman

Brian Lyman is the editor of Alabama Reflector. He has covered Alabama politics since 2006, and worked at the Montgomery Advertiser, the Press-Register and The Anniston Star. His work has won awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Alabama Press Association and Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. He lives in Auburn with his wife, Julie, and their three children.