Johnson follows through on ethics complaint against Walker, open to using shelters for voting addresses

07/14/2011 03:26 PM

Republican Secretary of State candidate Bill Johnson followed through with filing an Executive Branch Ethics complaint against current Secretary of State Elaine Walker today, over a memo Walker sent out regarding registering homeless voters.

Johnson was upset a few weeks ago over a memo from Walker’s office to all 120 county clerks, advising that if a person cannot provide a stable address on their voter registration card, the person must still be registered and the voter placed in the precinct that contains the clerk’s office.

Walker’s office claimed it hasn’t changed or modified the existing law regarding registering the homeless. And Johnson’s Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, has said property ownership has nothing to do with the right to vote.

Grimes said Johnson has read the law incorrectly, something Johnson disputes.

In his complaint to Executive Branch Ethics Commission, Johnson wrote that he has a problem with Walker’s interpretation of a law, and claims she isn’t following KRS 116.155 correctly.

Johnson also cites the Kentucky Constitution, which says “every citizen of the United State of the age of eighteen years who has resided in the state one year, and in the county six months, and the precinct in which he offers to vote sixty days next preceding an election, shall be a voter in said precinct and not elsewhere…”

Johnson says Walker’s interpretation bends those laws, because there isn’t a way to track whether a homeless voter is abiding by the residency requirements if they don’t have a physical address.

Because a few votes can make the difference in an election, Johnson said he wants to protect against voter fraud by requiring a physical address in order to register someone to vote.

“I know firsthand elections can be very close,” Johnson, who narrowly won this year’s primary, said. “It doesn’t take a lot to swing an election.”

In a phone interview, Johnson said he would be fine with listing a shelter, church or other semi-permanent residence a homeless citizen may return to frequently as an acceptable address.

Saying he’s worked with the homeless many times, Johnson said the best thing for the homeless is not to give them an exemption to a law, but to work hard to give them an address.

Johnson, a Navy veteran, went even further when it comes to military veterans who end up homeless. He said once again, the most “compassionate” thing to do in the case of the homeless veteran is to find them a place.

“The most compassionate thing we can do for homeless veterans is to get them an address,” Johnson said. “So they can get the government benefits they deserve. As a veteran myself, I am very sympathetic to homeless veterans and they deserve to have an address so they can receive benefits.”

Johnson said if the issue of homeless veterans or citizens without an address is large enough that an exemption is needed, then the law needs to be changed instead.

“What we can’t do is make exemptions,” he said.

The ethics commission will address the complaint at its Sept. 19 meeting.

UPDATE
In response to Johnson’s complaint, Walker sent out a statement saying county clerks are in charge of voter registration.

“Kentucky’s 120 county clerks manage voter registration and the State Board of Election’s staff provides technical support to ensure that they receive training to uphold their responsibilities—as was the case with the June 30 memo that addressed homeless voter registration,” Walker said. “As board chairman, I can assure voters that these officials serve their communities with diligence on this and every issue and execute the voter registration process for all citizens who meet the eligibility criteria to the letter of the law and policies.”

-Reporting by Kenny Colston

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