Northern Kentucky state Senate candidates disagree over absentee ballot lawsuit

04/09/2014 05:55 PM

Deb Sheldon, a Republican candidate for Kentucky State Senate, is challenging the constitutionality of a new law that keeps secret the list of people who request absentee ballots, but her two GOP primary opponents say that’s a mistake.

Wil Schroder and Brandon Voelker told Pure Politics they think the 2013 law is necessary to protect privacy of voters. The three are vying for the Republican nomination for the 24th state Senate seat currently held by Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, who is not seeking reelection.

That law keeps information on absentee ballot applications from being made public until after the close of business on election day and was aimed, in part, at preventing voter fraud by shieding the names of likely early voters. Sheldon, of Alexandria, filed the lawsuit on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Covington asking a judge to order state and local officials to make the absentee data public. WDRB’s Marcus Green was first to report the lawsuit

Defendants named in the suit include the county clerks of Campbell, Pendleton and Bracken counties along with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and Attorney General Jack Conway.

“Mrs. Sheldon filed the lawsuit because part of her campaign was to communicate with the individuals who sought absentee ballots to vote in the May Republican Primary for the State Senate,” said Sheldon’s attorney, Steve Megerle of Covington. “She attempted to seek this information that has, otherwise for decades, been available for candidates to get from the local clerks and she was denied that access under the changes made by the General Assembly last session which exempted this voter information until after the primary election.”

The lawsuit questions the constitutionality of the provision that closes access to the absentee ballot information. Proponents of the law, including Grimes, have said it’s needed to prevent potential vote buyers from getting a ready-made list of people who already have ballots.

Absentee voters typically include elderly citizens, military personnel stationed abroad, college students and individuals who may be out of state on Election Day.

“She’s seeking to communicate with those voters and explain to them why she is the best candidate to replace Katie Stine in the State Senate,” said Megerle.

But Voelker, an attorney from Cold Spring, is concerned that the suit looks to take away a person’s right to privacy.

“First of all, I don’t think it’s a freedom of speech issue whatsoever,” said Voelker.
“I think it’s just a matter of the legislature passed out of privacy concerns for people who request an absentee ballot. I think the people should have a right to privacy and they shouldn’t be bothered by people that they don’t want to be bothered by.”

Voelker said that he wouldn’t be opposed to allowing voters who request an absentee ballot to have the option of whether they want their information released to the public.

“The people who want privacy would be protected and people who want to get bombarded with robocalls and emailers would be able to get those as well,” said Voelker. “I think one of the consequences of the law is to try to restore civility to our electoral process and I don’t approve of her lawsuit. Any law that’s there to protect the right to privacy is a law worth standing for and not against.”

Wil Schroder, an attorney from Wilder, agrees that it’s important that voters have a right to privacy.

“The intent of the law was to prevent voter fraud and protect the privacy of voters,” said Schroder. ““If it comes down to the integrity of elections and privacy rights vs. the convenience of a campaign, I would weigh on the side of fair elections and voter privacy every time.”

Schroder says that he’ll leave it up to the judge decide the outcome.

“I think that it’s important to know that this law was passed overwhelmingly by a Republican-controlled Senate,” said Schroder.

The case will be heard by U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning who issued a court order on Friday which states that the defendants have until Monday, April 14, to submit written responses. Sheldon has until Wednesday, April 16, to submit her reply.

“In this type of case, the case is heard under strict scrutiny which means that the burden is on the Commonwealth to show a compelling state interest for restricting the political speech rights of Mrs. Sheldon,” said Megerle. “I applaud Judge Bunning for insuring that this issue will be litigated with all deliberate speed and to make sure that there is a decision made hopefully before the May 20 primary.”

In 2009, Megerle was a Covington city commissioner who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate campaign finance restrictions and one count of conspiracy to fail to identify campaign contributors and advertisers.

“That case has no relevance to the Sheldon lawsuit whatsoever,” said Megerle.


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