By Daniel Desrochers | Lexington Herald-Leader
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes held a news conference Thursday to tell voters they should be concerned about the State Board of Elections after she found errors in the official vote totals from May’s primary election.
“When you cannot get a basic function right in certifying vote totals, you cannot possibly be prepared for the bigger tasks,” Grimes told reporters as she issued a “vote of no confidence” in the board.
But a bipartisan group of six county clerks immediately held a news conference of their own to say Grimes, a Democrat, was exaggerating the situation.
“This is much ado about nothing. Nothing happened this election that doesn’t happen every election and gets caught and fixed,” said Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins Jr., a Democrat. “That’s how it works, that’s why we have the State Board of Elections and certifications.”
After Grimes raised her concerns Tuesday, the board voted to delay their certification of results from the May 21 primary until Friday. None of the errors would have changed the outcome of the election.
Blevins, who helped craft the legislation earlier this year that stripped Grimes of her authority over the elections board, said such mistakes are normally caught and corrected before the official vote totals are presented to the board of elections. The only difference this year, he said, is that Grimes presented the mistakes at the board meeting rather than correcting them before the meeting.
“It’s interesting that she waited until the board meeting to reveal the information she had,” Blevins said. “Normally, that would have been done behind the scenes, taken care of so that the board doesn’t even know, they just get the totals. I think we have a little bit of gamesmanship at play.”
Grimes blamed a lack of time and the change in her role on the board for not correcting the mistakes before the meeting. She said her staff put in several hours to check the official vote totals.
She laid the blame at the feet of Josh Branscum, the new Republican chairman of the State Board of Elections, saying it was his responsibility to check the election results just as she did when she was chairwoman. She expressed concern that the board would have approved the incorrect results had she not stepped in, saying Jared Dearing, the executive director of the State Board of Elections, needs oversight.
“Right now, at the State Board of Elections we have a ship without a captain, we have a staff without a boss,” Grimes said.
Her statement underscores how Grimes views the State Board of Elections as a branch of her office, an interpretation that led to a three-part series by the Herald-Leader and ProPublica that found Grimes’ had amassed extraordinary control over the board. That power allowed her to push through a contract for a political donor, delay action on a federal consent decree and gain unprecedented access to the state’s voter registration system.
Grimes Tuesday called the reporting “manufactured investigations so the GOP has some talking points.”
The new law stripped Grimes of her position as chairwoman of the board of elections, but she remains on the board as a non-voting member and continues to be the state’s chief elections officer. Grimes said that is not enough.
“Everything in this report has been available (to the board) to assess and correct,” Grimes said. “Instead of assessing and correcting and doing their due diligence, which is a fiduciary obligation, you had a chair and five other voting members meet. Had I not been there, these results would have been certified … these results were nearly certified and that should scare every voter.”
On Tuesday, Grimes was openly criticized by at least one Democratic member of the State Board of Elections. According to an audio recording of Tuesday’s board meeting, Democratic member Sherry Whitehouse said she was “tired” of the games Grimes was playing after Grimes presented the errors to the board.
“I am tired of six months of games,” Whitehouse said. “I want the numbers. I want your staff and I want (Dearing’s) staff to work together and get it done.”
Grimes and Whitehouse continued to argue before Grimes said, “I’ve been attacked and I want to finish speaking.”
“I’ve been attacked?” Whitehouse said. “We’ve been attacked as this board.”
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, who crafted the law that stripped Grimes of her power over the board, has been critical of the fact that Grimes has blamed the new legislation for “chaos and confusion” at the State Board of Elections.
“The only reason there is a dysfunctional relationship between the board of elections and the secretary of state is because of Alison Lundergan Grimes,” Thayer said. “She’s caused the dysfunction, she continues to cause the chaos between the board of elections and the secretary of state’s office. I think that no matter who wins in November and is sworn in in December, they will be able to work together like normal human beings.”
Grimes responded to the claim that she’s the one creating chaos by saying she is just trying to protect the integrity of Kentucky’s elections.
“That’s misleading and that’s not the case,” Grimes said. “If it’s chaos and confusion to protect every voter in the state, that is something I will proudly stand up for.”