A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Legislation that would limit some powers of the Secretary of State passes Senate committee

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Legislation that would take some of the election powers away from the secretary of state passed a Senate committee on Wednesday.

The measure, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, originally 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, a committee substitute presented to the panel by Thayer, added several more provisions:

Senate. Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, accompanied by two members of the County Clerks Association, testifies before the committee. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

• The State Board of Elections will become an independent agency of state government.

• 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.

• Two new members would be appointed by the Governor to the State Board: two county clerks nominated by the Kentucky County Clerks Association, one Democrat and one Republican, increasing the number of voting members of the Board from seven to eight.

• The executive director of the State Board of Elections would only vote in the case of a tie in selecting the chair of the Board of Elections.

• The Board Chair, elected by a majority vote of the other members, would preside over board meetings.

• The age requirement for appointment to the Board would drop from 25 to 21.

• 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.

Thayer also added an emergency clause to the bill, saying, “With the recent news coming out of the Secretary of State’s office, we need this law to go into effect as soon as it is signed by the Governor.”

He referred to the recent series of news stories 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.

He said the changes to state law included in the bill “are meant to ensure that no one partisan figure can control the commonwealth’s election apparatus.”

Thayer added: “Frankly, I’d heard about some of the shenanigans going on in the Secretary of State’s office, going back to 2017.”

He told the committee that “integrity of the ballot box is at the core of our republic. And any effort to undermine it needs to be remedied immediately.”

The measure passed the committee on an 8-2 vote. Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, one of the two no votes, said he wanted more time to study the changes proposed by Thayer. Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg, was the other.

Grimes offered this statement on the bill:

“On the heels of the House Homeland Security Committee meeting concerning election security; in an effort to ensure the integrity of our elections, I call for even greater transparency of Kentucky’s Election Infrastructure,” she said.

Grimes called for a complese release of all searches conducted by members of her staff, the State Board of Elections staff, the 120 county clerks and deputies.

“These searches will reflect that my staff have always acted appropriately pursuant to my role as Kentucky’s Secretary of State and Chief Election Official,” Grimes said.

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