Leslie Ricard Chambers

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry speaks with the editorial board of The Times-Picayune February 1, 2017. (Photo by G. Andrew Boyd, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Amite City Councilman Emmanuel Zanders has been arrested and charged with election fraud, the attorney general's office said Wednesday. 

Zanders, the District 3 councilman and former mayor pro tem of Amite, is accused of illegally registering voters at addresses in District 3 at which they did not live. Zanders, a 52-year-old Democrat, was charged with 8 counts of election fraud.

Zanders was booked into the Tangipahoa Parish Prison on Tuesday and has since bonded out, according to booking records. 

The Tangipahoa Parish Registrar of Voters contacted the Secretary of State's office in October after noticing some voter registration forms had been submitted with fraudulent addresses, Landry said. Investigators found two addresses for separate vacant lots in District 3 that had six people registered to vote at the first address and 16 people registered at the second, Attorney General Jeff Landry said.

Landry said Zanders "purposefully manipulated citizens," having them sign their voter registration form before he later filled out the address on his own.

“Anything other than one-for-one votes distorts our election process, and those who wish to distort an election process in this manner are breaking the law and betraying their fellow citizens," Landry said. "It’s even more disheartening when the perpetrator is an elected official.”

Zanders could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Zanders, who's been on the council for 8 years, was reelected to his 3rd term on the Amite City Council on Dec. 5 when he won a runoff election by 19 votes over local businesswoman Claire Bel.

In November, Zanders was drawn into the runoff when he received 48% of the vote in the general election against Bel, who received 33%, and Mark Vining, a former council member who received 19%.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin joined Landry at the news conference, where he said election fraud would not be tolerated in the state and said he would push for Zanders' prosecution.

Longtime Amite Councilman Jonathon Foster said voter registration drives have been common in the town throughout his 26 years on the council, and he isn't yet convinced of Zanders' guilt: "I'm just trying to see what really happened." 

Foster hasn't spoken with Zanders about the arrest but accused Ardoin and Landry of using the town to score political points. 

"I think they’re using the town here," Foster said. "Going through these press conferences and all of that, I figure they must be bored.”