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Grimes: Voter System Searches In Line With Office's Mission

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes says public records released on Wednesday bolster her case that her staff acted appropriately when running searches in the state’s voter registration system. 

Grimes has been accused of improperly accessing the voter rolls to seek information on political opponents. This week, officials released user logs of the searches – all of which, the office says, were carried out at the request of the public, the media, and as part of typical background checks for job applicants.

Those requests, Grimes says, are numerous and often have no accompanying documentation.

"It's not required by law, nor do we keep a log of every call that comes in, every visitor that shows up, and the work that we do," she explains. "We've had media inquire how long has Amy McGrath been registered, or folks reach out and want to know what the governor's appointees to boards are regarding political affiliation, or talk about recruiting poll workers for Election Day, making sure that they meet the qualifications..." 

Finding answers to those questions necessitates queries in the system, the secretary says. 

Following this week's release, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported the documents show searches on "political rivals, state investigators and a range of political operatives," including all members of the state school board on May 10, 2018. 

On that last count, NAACP President Raoul Cunningham later released a statement saying he called and requested that Mary Sue Helm, director of elections in the secretary's office, research public voter registration information regarding recent appointments by the governor to the board on the date specified. 

"As the director of the NAACP, I have a vested interest in the integrity of the composition of all boards across the Commonwealth of Kentucky," he wrote. 

Yet critics maintain the office overstepped its bounds and they're awaiting the results of ongoing investigations by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and the Personnel Cabinet. An independent counsel appointed by Attorney Genereal Andy Beshear is also expected to issue findings on the allegations against Grimes, including whether she violated a federal consent decree. 

In the meantime, Republican Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer is pressing for legislative action removing the secretary from her presiding role on the State Board of Elections and making it a misdemeanor to abuse or misuse access to the voter database.

"We need to send a message to the voters of this Commonwealth as we approach the May primary that this state, under the leadership of the General Assembly, is doing everything it can to protect the integrity of the voter rolls," the Georgetown Republican said in February. 

Thayer's Senate-approved bill faltered early this week in a House committee, but advanced in watered down form attached to separate legislation. It's now eligible for debate on the House floor. 

Grimes is calling the bill an unnecessary “targeted political action” based on inaccurate information in the media.

"Folks are quick to assign some sort of malice or wrongful intent. When you don't have all the facts and you don't hear the whole story, it might be easy to do that," the secretary says. "But my hope is they do have all the facts... and the correct version of the story actually gets out there." 

Grimes' term as secretary of state ends in 2020. 

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.