Politics & Government

More Democrats means unhappy Republicans after House district boundary change

FRANKFORT — Just weeks before a special state House election, an additional 114 mostly Democratic voters have been moved into the district — and the state Republican chairman is calling foul.

Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins, a Democrat, said he was merely correcting a precinct boundary error that had been on the books for 16 years but was discovered only recently.

Kentucky Republican Party chairman Steve Robertson isn't happy about the change, which will allow residents of Turfland Apartments in Lexington to vote in the June 25 election.

"I'm extremely disappointed in the way this has come about," Robertson said. "There has been a lack of transparency in this decision-making process."

Blevins, head of the Fayette County Board of Elections, recently notified voters through a letter from elections department manager Tracy Merriman that those registered at 2070 Garden Springs Drive, site of Turfland Apartments, "were inadvertently assigned" to the Pershing voting precinct when they actually are in the Garden Springs precinct.

The Pershing precinct is in the state House 75th District, represented by Democrat Kelly Flood, Blevins said in an interview. Flood could not be reached for comment.

The Garden Springs precinct is part of the 56th District, where the special election is being held to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, who has taken a higher education job. The district includes all of Woodford County and parts of Fayette and Franklin counties. Three candidates are vying for the seat — Republican Lyen Crews, Democrat James Kay II and independent John-Mark Hack. All are from Woodford County.

Of the 114 registered voters being moved into the 56th District, 67 are Democrats, 29 are Republicans and 18 are independents.

"The timing couldn't be worse, but the boundary error has to be corrected," said Blevins. "I took this action as chief election official in Fayette County and have informed the county board of elections and the State Board of Elections."

Blevins said Turfland Apartments, south of Turfland Mall, sits on Garden Springs and Larkspur roads and has addresses for both streets.

"We discovered a typographical error in which precinct the apartments should be," he said. "That was messing up the computers to say where voters should vote. I simply fixed it. It had been in error since 1997."

Blevins said state Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, a Democrat who represents the 76th District in northern Fayette County, brought the error to his attention a few weeks ago.

Palumbo said Monday she notified Blevins that the official map of state legislative districts had the apartments in the Garden Springs precinct but the official listing did not.

Palumbo said she was interested in the correct precinct for the apartments because her family owns them.

"I was looking at the district boundaries in Fayette County because the legislature is in the process of addressing redistricting. I found the error for the Turfland Apartments and notified the county clerk," she said.

Palumbo said the special House election "was not a consideration on my part."

Blevins said he was not aware of the affected voters' party registrations when he corrected the error. In the entire 56th District, Democrats outnumber Republicans 18,141 to 10,403, with 2,261 registered as other.

Robertson said Blevins "showed extremely poor judgment by not calling the county board to fix the error. He took it on his own to correct it. Now that will be viewed only as a partisan decision. Anytime a Democrat in office like Palumbo can go to a local official of the same party and get something like this done, it smells of partisan politics."

Robertson said he would like to see Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the state's chief election official, have the State Board of Elections establish a procedure for county clerks to follow when district boundaries have to be changed.

Lynn Zellen, a spokeswoman for Grimes, said assigning voters to precincts in line with the law is a function of the county clerk's office that does not require approval by the State Board of Elections.

She added that Grimes, to ensure election integrity, made sure Blevins notified the affected voters of their voting locations and eligibility to vote in the June 25 election and that she notified the political parties and independent candidate. Grimes is a Democrat.