Kentucky State Board of Elections meets without Grimes
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes swore there would be “chaos” in the aftermath of a new law that removed her authority over the State Board of Elections and expanded the board from six to eight voting members.
There wasn’t any, and she wasn’t there to see it.
Grimes’s seat at the table remained empty for the more than two hour meeting in the Capitol as the newly expanded board, which hasn’t met since November, moved through four months worth of agenda items.
“I think we all understand that the constitutionality of this law has come into question and it will probably have to be decided by a court at some point,” said Ben Chandler, a Democratic board member from Versailles and former congressman. “But that should not, in my opinion should not prevent us from carrying forward and doing the best we can under the circumstances.”
A spokeswoman for Grimes, a Democrat, did not immediately respond to a question about why she did not attend the meeting. During the meeting, her personal Twitter account shared a video of Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, speaking against the bill Thursday night shortly before it won final approval in the Republican-led legislature.
“Make no mistake, this legislation creates chaos and centers our elections in the hands of one individual — the governor,” Grimes said in a statement Thursday.
Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, signed House Bill 114 into law Friday morning and it was recorded by the Office of the Secretary of State less than 30 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start.
The law removed Grimes as chairwoman of the State Board of Elections, instead making her a non-voting member. It also added the executive director of the State Board of Elections as a non-voting member and two former county clerks, nominated by the Kentucky County Clerks Association, as voting members.
Both clerks were named Tuesday morning — Democrat Katrina Fitzgerald of Meade County and Republican David Osborne of Daviess County. Fitzgerald took her spot at the table immediately.
There were two moments of tension during Tuesday’s meeting.
The first came when Democratic member Sheri Whitehouse decided to abstain from voting during the meeting. Whitehouse said she didn’t have enough time to process the bill that passed Thursday and was signed into law Tuesday.
“Being that it just got signed this morning, I was not aware of what potential changes could be made or were made and not being able to fully review that, I didn’t feel comfortable in conducting business today,” Whitehouse said.
The other came when it was time to certify the election of state Senator Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, who was chosen by voters in a special election earlier this month.
The Office of the Secretary of State had copies of the vote totals for the election, but board members didn’t have the vote totals because Grimes wasn’t present.
When Jennifer Scutchfield, the assistant executive director of the elections board, went to retrieve the results from the secretary of state’s office, the door was slammed in her face, Scutchfield said. Minutes later, two staffers who work for Grimes — Assistant Secretary of State Erica Gaylon and Communications Director Lillie Ruschell — appeared at the meeting with the election results.
The rest of the meeting was relatively normal. The board did everything from approving upgrades to voting systems to answering questions about splitting voter precincts.
“I think that it was not chaotic,” Whitehouse said. “I think every member of this board is passionate about doing what is right for Kentucky, which is why I want to make sure we are covered legally and sustained within the law.”
The board had not met since November, an unusual four month gap that Whitehouse said was a result of the chairwoman (then Grimes) not calling a meeting. Board members are paid between $12,000 and $13,500 a year, according to the Kentucky transparency portal.
Tuesday was the first time the board has met since the Lexington Herald-Leader and ProPublica published a series of stories earlier this year that showed Grimes had obtained unprecedented power over the elections board, which allowed her to push through a contract with a political donor, delay action on an order from the Department of Justice to clean the voter rolls, and allowed her staff access to the state’s voter registration database.
Josh Branscum, a Republican board member from Clinton County, said issues surrounding the State Board of Elections and the potential for a lawsuit challenging the new law, wouldn’t affect the board’s ability to perform its duties.
“We’ve got one thing on our minds and that’s the election coming up,” Branscum said.