A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Trey Grayson cared about voting, democracy early on, has earned national reputation as election expert

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

Those who watched Trey Grayson grow up in his Edgewood home remember the earnest kid with the computer. It was definitely not a computer for games, but for the serious stuff of learning.

Trey Grayson

The serious student headed off to Harvard after graduating from Dixie Heights, then came back to the University of Kentucky for a joint JD/MBA dual-degree program thanks to a prestigious scholarship named for the honorable former Governor Bert T. Combs.

All along the way, he was hard-connected to public affairs. He registered his fellow Dixie students to vote. He registered college students – at Thomas More, at Harvard, wherever . . . He has always been passionate about the right – and responsibility – of citizens to vote, regardless of political leanings.

In his two terms as Kentucky’s Secretary of State, he was a big advocate of Kids Voting as a way to get parents more involved and he started implementing technology making it easier to register vote, as well as making voting more secure, and easier to run for office or run a business. He revived the civic mission of the state’s schools by leading efforts to restore civics education to the classroom. He secured federal funding to implement the Help America Vote Act.

That NKY-boy-makes-good is now center stage nationally as the go-to person in Kentucky to speak about voting issues. You will see and hear him everywhere. Most recently, he wrote a commentary for The Economist on “American election integrity,” and the “stress test for democracy” that is America in 2020.

He has earned his creds – as director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, in national leadership of the National Association of Secretary of States, as a member of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, the boards of Democracy Works, the Center for Election Innovation and Research, Task Force on Election Crises, the National Council on Election Integrity, and as an adviser to the Knight Foundation’s Study on Non-voters and the More Than A Vote organization and as a participant in the Transition Integrity Project. This is just to name a few.

In short, his reputation as a national authority on election administration and integrity is well-earned and backed up with extensive experience.

Today he is a member of Frost Brown Todd law first and a principal at CivicPoint. And on election night, he is on call with ProPublica and KET as an expert election analyst.

So, the expert has some insightful views on the 2020 Election.

First, he likes the system Kentucky’s Governor and Secretary of State have worked together to set up: Mail-in Voting (delivered by mail or to drop-in boxes around the counties), Early Voting in-person and Election Day in-person voting.

Mail-in voting: “Allowing the ballots to be processed (not counted) as they are received is a major improvement,” Grayson says. “Our county clerks and the state board of elections worked to make the process easier.”

The ballots can be opened and prepared for counting on election day and if there are problems (like missing signatures or unclear markings) there is a “cure period” where the voter is contacted and given a chance to fix the problem. “There is more time to fix a problem,” he said. And those ballots returned early enough will be counted on election night.

Grayson speaking at a webinar put on by University of Southern California on election cybersecurity. (Photo provided)

Election security: “We have a lot of foreign adversaries that present National Security threats, but I want to assure voters that we can have confidence in the system,” he said. The technology has been improved and laws changed, so the problems can be spotted and communicated promptly. There has been more training and information-sharing has been more inclusive, Grayson says. And paper ballots allow for accurate audits.

Election integrity: “I’m concerned but not worried,” he says. “Almost every state is working to make voting easier in the pandemic. . . We are in a much better spot because people are prepared.”

There are always bad actors, he said – so if a voter sees something suspicious, report it.

The process: “I care about making the system work better, politics aside,” he says. “I focus on how to improve democracy. We have to be grounded in data to know what’s really going on.

“We have companies giving people time off to work the polls, sports celebrities advocating get-out-the-vote, so there’s a lot of innovation going on.”

Election officials can handle the big turnout – early voting helps – and Grayson will be happy if the turnout breaks records.

See Trey Grayson:


LeBron James and More Than A Vote

The Hill on expanded voting options

The Hill: Getting non-voters to the polls

The Boston Globe: Gaming out a contested election

The Economist: Trey Grayson on reliability of the American election system

Note: Trey Grayson is the son of retired NKY banker Mer Grayson and his wife, Susan. Trey and his wife, Nancy, have two daughters, Alexandra and Kate, and live in Boone County.


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