Politics & Government

Kentucky State Police take computer from Alison Lundergan Grimes’ office amid inquiry

Kentucky State Police seized a computer Tuesday from the Office of the Secretary of State as part of an ongoing investigation into how Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and her aides used voter data.

In a motion filed in Franklin Circuit Court Tuesday, attorneys for Grimes disclosed that Mark Metcalf, the commonwealth’s attorney appointed by Attorney General Andy Beshear to spearhead a state investigation into her office, “caused state police officers to seize, with no warrant or subpoena, the computer of the individual in the Office of the Secretary of State who created and maintained the VRS (voter registration system).”

The motion was filed in Grimes’ ongoing legal challenge to a law enacted earlier this year that stripped some of her powers as secretary of state over the Kentucky Board of Elections.

Grimes’ spokeswoman, Lillie Ruschell, said KSP took the computer Tuesday after an employee of Grimes sought to reschedule a meeting with Kentucky State Police. Ruschell said the interaction was reported to the court as evidence that Beshear’s office should not be dismissed from Grimes’ lawsuit, as Beshear has requested.

Police seized the computer of Steve Spisak, a software developer who has been accused by former State Board of Elections Assistant Executive Director Matt Selph of downloading information about the voter registration system on a flash drive for use by Grimes or her aides. Spisak — who has worked for the State Board of Elections or the secretary of state for two decades — had been cooperating with the state’s investigation until this week, prompting the seizure of his computer.

Spisak did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday morning.

The seizure indicates Grimes’ legal woes are not behind her, a week after her father, Jerry Lundergan, was convicted of making illegal campaign contributions to her 2014 campaign for U.S. Senate against U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. There was no evidence that Grimes was aware of the contributions in that case.

Metcalf, whose office is in Garrard County, was appointed as a special prosecutor in October 2018, after State Board of Elections Executive Director Jared Dearing sent a letter to several state agencies detailing alleged wrongdoing in the secretary of state’s office, including that Grimes’ aides were using the voter registration system to look up the party affiliations of merit staffers for hiring purposes and that Grimes had created a hostile work environment.

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission and the Kentucky Personnel Board also have ongoing investigations of Grimes that stem from Dearing’s claims.

A joint Herald-Leader and ProPublica investigation published earlier this year found that Grimes gained extraordinary influence over the State Board of Elections — allowing her to push through a contract for a political donor, delay action on a federal consent decree to clean the voter rolls and gain unprecedented access to the state’s voter registration system.

Since May, Grimes has been fighting a new law that stripped some of her power. Tuesday’s motion from her lawyers, R. Kenyon Meyer and Kent Wicker, focused on her office’s ability to search the voter database. Her office’s access to the voter registration system allows them to view voters’ drivers license numbers, every address ever linked to a voter, full birth dates, phone numbers, email addresses, Social Security numbers for some voters, disability status, military status and the addresses of voters — such as domestic violence survivors — who have petitioned to have their address kept off the public roll.

In the motion, the lawyers argue that the new law, passed in March, is too broad and vague and prevents the secretary of state’s office from responding to open records requests from the public and the press for voter information. They argue that responding to such requests breaks the new law, which says officials with access to the voter registration system may only use it for duties that are relevant to election administration.

Information about Metcalf’s investigation was included in the motion in an effort to bolster the claim that there is an “imminent threat of prosecution” based on the new law and that Judge Phillip Shepherd should rule quickly on its constitutionality.

The attorneys say Metcalf’s ongoing investigation is “not hypothetical” for employees, including one who received a letter from the Executive Branch Ethics Commission “accusing the employee of ‘improperly access[ing] the Voter Registration System for non-work-related reasons.’”

The Kentucky Democratic Party earlier this week sent a letter to the State Board of Elections, accusing them of improperly moving more than 150,000 Kentuckians onto the inactive voter list. The people who were moved have allegedly not voted in the past two federal elections and no longer live at the address where they were registered, based on two postcards bouncing back to the State Board of Elections.

Grimes told the elections board Tuesday that thousands of people who voted in 2018 were moved to the inactive voter list. The board, though, did not act on the Democratic Party’s request to move the affected voters back to the active voters list.