Politics & Government

Kentucky Democrats sue state for labeling 175,000 voters ‘inactive’ before election

The Kentucky Democratic Party sued the State Board of Elections Thursday, claiming it unlawfully placed 175,000 registered voters on an “inactive” list that might infringe on their right to vote.

The lawsuit filed in Franklin Circuit Court followed unsuccessful discussions between the two sides.

“After weeks of conversations with the State Board of Elections staff that raised more questions than it provided answers, we determined that we had no choice but to file this lawsuit in order to protect Kentucky voters from facing unfair burdens at the polls,” Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Ben Self said in a statement.

“Our hope is that this will be resolved quickly and that voters can be confident heading into Election Day” on Nov. 5, he added.

Jennifer Scutchfield, assistant director of the elections board, said it had no comment on the lawsuit.

The elections board has said that voters placed on the “inactive” list must update their registrations by November 2022 or else be removed from voter rolls. Voters placed on the “inactive list” are still eligible to vote in November, and the list appears to include tens of thousands of registered Democrats and Republicans, officials said.

But Self wrote in his September letter that “the improper maintenance of a list of ‘inactive voters’ will deny registered Kentucky voters who are entitled to vote in the upcoming election the right to do so.”

A failure to reactive their registrations will “cause immediate and irreparable harm to the KDP (Kentucky Democratic Party), candidates for office, and most importantly, the public,” he said.

Jared Dearing, executive director of the elections board, said last month that no voters on the inactive list have been removed from the voter registration database.

Lillie Ruschell, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is a non-voting member on the board, said in a statement Thursday that “Secretary Grimes continues her vote of no confidence in the Kentucky State Board of Elections and the chaos that currently exists.”

“Secretary Grimes joins the effort in urging the court to move swiftly to protect 175,000 Kentucky voters whose registration records have been unlawfully and inaccurately altered,” Ruschell said.

She said more than 600,000 voters have been lawfully removed from the voter rolls during Grimes’ tenure “and it was always done through respecting the rights of the voter, the law and with the approval of the State Board of Elections.

“None of these elements have been met in the State Board of Elections staff’s recent rash decision to create an inactive list,” she said.

Grimes is challenging in court a new state law, enacted earlier this year by the Republican-dominated legislature, that removed the secretary of state as chairman and a voting member of the elections board. A hearing on her suit was held Thursday afternoon in Franklin Circuit Court but no decision was rendered.

The elections board is under a federal consent decree requiring the board to implement a mailing process to reach out to voters who have not participated in the two previous federal election cycles or have not updated their voter information in the same period, Dearing said.

He said people can find out if they are on the inactive list by logging onto govoteKY.com to verify that their information is up to date.

The Democratic Party’s 34-page lawsuit alleges that the board’s actions “undermine the integrity of the electoral process.”

It claimed the board has provided different explanations of the rules to different political parties and left many interested parties without any information.

The board’s emails “show that it was clearly advised that this course of action is illegal” and that “explicit agreement to not strip voters” from the master list of registered voters was made between the board’s general counsel, outside counsel, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Judicial Watch and secretary of state..

The agreement was “immediately breached” by the board, the lawsuit said.

The suit lists the state elections board and Grimes, in her role as chief election official for the state, as defendants.

It seeks a temporary injunction to be heard at 9 a.m. Oct. 14 in Franklin Circuit Court.