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Bill limiting many election powers of the Kentucky Secretary of State fails to advance from committee


By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

A Senate bill that would remove many election powers from the secretary of state failed to clear a House committee on Monday.

The bill was filed by Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and in its original form would only prevent the access, modification or altering voter registration records by the secretary of state, individual members of the State Board of Elections, or any staff member of the secretary of state’s office.

However, after a series of articles by Pro Publica and the Lexington Herald-Leader, alleging improper access to and use of the voter registration records by current Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and other employees in Grimes’ office, Thayer added several more provisions, which included:

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer testifies to a House committee about a bill that would limit the secretary of state’s election powers. It failed after a 7-7 vote. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

• The secretary of state will no longer preside over or be a voting member of the State Board of Elections, but shall remain as an ex-officio, non-voting member, while maintaining the status of chief election officer of the state.

• The state board would be responsible for oversight of board personnel, including hiring, investigations, disciplinary actions, promotions and other actions.

• The secretary of state would be removed from the responsibility of implementing provisions and promulgating administration regulations.

That version passed the Senate 27-8, sending it on to the House.

When it was presented to the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, another change would allow the secretary of state and two employees to access the voter registration database but would not allow changes without approval from the State Board of Elections.

Thayer said there are currently three investigations into actions by current Secretary of State Grimes, a Democrat.

Rep. Jeffrey Donohue, D-Louisville, didn’t think the action was necessary.

“If they were doing something that was against the law, there would have been charges filed,” he said. “Why in the world are we trying to handcuff future secretaries of state?”

Rep. Jeff Hoover, R- Jamestown, said, “It seems to me that there is some kind of retribution going on, with this bill.”

When the vote was taken, it resulted in a 7-7 tie, meaning it failed to receive a favorable expression by the committee. Among the no votes were Hoover and Rep. Scott Lewis, R-Hartford.

After the vote, Thayer told the committee: “For those of you who voted no, it’s now on your hands that the integrity of the voter rolls of this commonwealth are in question as we head into a major gubernatorial election.”

His remarks were cut off by Committee Chairman Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, who also would not let Hoover or Donohue respond. Both men stated they’d respond on the House floor, to which Thayer said, “Have at it.”

Monday was day 23 of the 30-day session, so it is unclear if the bill can still be revived without another committee vote in favor or some other parliamentary maneuver, before the session ends.

The legislation is Senate Bill 34.


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