Johnson upset over homeless registration memo, Grimes campaign says opponent doesn't know the law

07/06/2011 03:59 PM

Fancy Farm may be less than a month away, but that isn’t stopping the Secretary of State candidates from getting into an early tussle. It’s over registering homeless voters.

The race between Republican Bill Johnson and Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes seems likely to revolve around election and voter issues, a main plank in the responsibilities of the office.

Requiring a photo ID at the polls and location of voting booths have been issues both candidates have talked about, it’s the homeless registration issue that has prompted the first attacks in the race.

The issue was born out of a decision of the state Board of Elections.
A memo sent to county clerks by the board told them to register homeless citizens addresses as a regular place they visit, say a park bench or alley, or to put the homeless voter’s precinct as the county clerk’s office, to substitute for a lack of address.

That upset Johnson, whose campaign frequently mentions voter fraud. Johnson claimed the board’s decision fraudulent. It’s chaired by the current Secretary of State, Democrat Elaine Walker.

Johnson claims the decision violates state law, which he says requires an address in order to register someone to vote.

After Walker dismissed the issue in news reports, Johnson took things a step further in a widely-circulated news release Wednesday morning, asking for Walker to resign. Johnson also chided his opponent, Grimes, for not chiming in.

“Frankly, I think Elaine Walker should resign and Alison Grimes is unfit for office if they think violating Kentucky law is appropriate. By making address exceptions for the homeless in violation of KRS 116.155, what other exceptions are they willing to make? Trust is important in our elected officials and those running for office. As a voter in Kentucky, my trust has been violated,” Johnson said in a release.

Walker’s office referred Pure Politics to the memo sent out by the Board of Elections to the county clerks, but did not respond to Johnson’s call for Walker to resign.

Grimes’ campaign issued a terse response and said Johnson was unfamiliar with the law he was citing.

“As a candidate for Secretary of State, Bill Johnson should know better,” Jonathan Hurst, a spokesman for Grimes’ campaign said in a statement. “The State Board of Elections, an independent bi-partisan agency, has been charged by the General Assembly to administer Kentucky’s election laws. To be eligible to vote, current state law requires that a voter: be 18 years old, be a Kentucky resident, be mentally competent, not registered to vote in other states, and not a convicted felon. Kentucky law does not require that one be a property owner to vote.”

Hurst said Grimes will work against voter fraud and said many veterans remain homeless, in one form or fashion. Hurst said those homeless veterans shouldn’t lose the right to vote.

“Kentuckians do not give up their rights as citizens because they are not property owners,” Hurst said in a statement. “Bill Johnson should check his facts before he tries to take away one’s most basic right – the right to vote. Indeed, all Kentuckians who meet the requirements of state law should have their votes protected and counted. Bill Johnson’s statement is disturbing, insensitive, and plays loose with the facts.”

Johnson is a veteran, having spent 10 years in the Navy. He said his concerns have nothing to do with the homeless or veterans, but with voter fraud and following the law.

“I care about the homeless. But no one is above the law. Follow the law if you want to vote. That applies to the homeless as well as those with multimillion dollar mansions,” Johnson said in a statement.

-Reporting by Kenny Colston

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