Elections board official accuses Grimes of abusing authority

BRUCE SCHREINER - Associated Press

FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s elections board was jolted Monday by accusations from its executive director, who accused Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes of overreaching her authority as the state’s elections chief and called for an ethics investigation of her actions.

The board’s executive director, Jared Dearing, said in a blistering, nine-page letter that Grimes had weakened “checks and balances” in the state’s election system by misusing her office in a variety of ways.

Grimes’ office dismissed the complaint as “baseless.”

Dearing’s letter comes as Grimes, a Democrat in her second term as secretary of state, considers a possible run for governor or attorney general next year. Grimes lost a high-profile U.S. Senate race against Republican Mitch McConnell in 2014.

The accusations also surface as elections officials prepare for midterm elections in November that include contests for Congress and the state legislature.

Dearing’s claims prompted quick action by Grimes, who chairs the State Board of Elections. She called a special board meeting for Tuesday.

Dearing’s letter was sent to members of the elections board. He said he had also raised his concerns with the state’s Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

In his letter, Dearing said he and another top elections official were asked by Grimes or a representative of her office to “do things we have found to be inappropriate, unethical and potentially illegal.” He did not clearly identify which of her actions he believed violated the law.

Dearing did accuse Grimes’ office of using the state’s voter registration database for “inappropriate reasons,” but did not spell out what those were. He also accused Grimes of initially ordering staff to ignore requirements of a settlement the elections board made with the U.S. Department of Justice to clean up the state’s election rolls.

Another claim raised questions about Grimes gaining access to information about 15,000 poll workers across Kentucky.

“I am not suggesting that the Secretary has, or plans to, manipulate the Commonwealth’s elections, however, the damage done is in the appearance of this ability and to the confidence the voting electorate must have in our elections being free and fair, unfettered by corruption and malfeasance,” Dearing wrote.

Dearing also accused Grimes of creating a hostile work environment and said she had screamed at staff members on at least one occasion. When he objected to the actions alleged in his letter, Grimes screamed at him and spoke to him in “derogatory terms that have offended me to the core of who I am as an individual,” he wrote.

Grimes’ office confirmed that the elections board had received the complaint.

“The complaint is baseless and lacks a basic understanding of the constitutional role and duties of the chief election official and chair of the Board and its staff,” her office said in a statement.

Dearing urged the elections board to request an investigation by the state’s Executive Branch Ethics Commission. He also requested that the Commonwealth Office of Technology review the elections board’s systems and safeguards, and said the state auditor should review a poll worker volunteer portal created by Grimes’ office.

Dearing isn’t the first top elections board executive to level such accusations. Last year, a former elections board staff member filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming his termination was in retaliation for accusing the secretary of state’s office of improperly gathering voter information.

BRUCE SCHREINER

Associated Press