State Personnel Board opens investigation that Alison Lundergan Grimes' office misused voter data

09/17/2018 09:23 AM

FRANKFORT— Giving his argument to Kentucky’s State Board of Personnel, Jared Dearing started out speaking about a government the Founding Fathers worked to avoid.

The Executive Director of Kentucky’s Board of Elections said, “If one feels that the other is benefiting the system in a way that is inappropriate, that favors one party over the other, they are a checks and balance, but that system is now gone.”

Jared says that’s why he filed a complaint with his board in August. In the complaint, he accuses Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes of using the voter registration system to determine hiring picks for non-political positions.

Dearing told the personnel board, “This is the first secretary that would have access to the voter registration system.”

In an interview just after Dearing made his initial complaint, Grimes explained why she needs access to the system. She said, “It is required and what is set forth in statute to certify voter registration, turnout, statistics that I know members of the media here regularly request of myself and my staff. We have to have access to the tools to be able to do that.”

At the board of personnel meeting, Dearing presented a spreadsheet with people whom Grimes’ office searched. Pointing out several lines, he said “These two names, I think are most indicative of what we’re dealing with today. These individuals were up for a merit staff position.”

Dearing says the candidate who had more experience is a Republican. The candidate who was extremely personable is a Democrat.

Dearing told the board, “My decision was to employ number two. Number two is a Republican and I was highly urged to hire employ number three.”

Dearing thinks that was a politically motivated decision, saying “4/26/18, that same staff member looked up, that would be employee number three. If you go back to the other side and from the bottom up, you see on the very last line, again the same date, roughly the same time, same staff member, parameters being employee number two.”

The state has a law called 18A that says merit based, or career positions, can’t take a person’s party into account for hiring. The personnel board said they received a letter saying the Secretary’s Office looked at that as part of a background check. However, the state’s Secretary of Personnel says that doesn’t make sense since the state already does background checks on applicants.

“Based on my history of different involvement as former General Counsel of Personnel Cabinet, as Cabinet Secretary, as probably the senior HR official for the state of Kentucky, I cannot fathom any reason why anyone would need to access the database, this voter database for the process of vetting someone involved in a merit job with the exclusive reason of determining what their party affiliation was,” said Tom Stephens, the Secretary of Personnel.

The attorney for the state board of elections, Stephen Amato, didn’t address that, but did say he saw flaws with Dearing’s accusations. He told the board, “Now, Mr. Dearing was more specific today. I still say he fell short of alleging that there was a decision of the State Board of Elections to hire or not hire someone based on party affiliation. I don’t think that’s try, and I don’t think he’s said that he has evidence of that at this time.”

The personnel board disagreed, voting to open an investigation.

Board chairman Brian Crall said, “The essential question is, has politics played a role in decision making relative to merit employees in either the Secretary of State’s Office or the Board of Elections. “

Crall explained, the next step will be to talk to Dearing and other people involved. In a statement, Grimes’ office called the decision to open an investigation politically motivated.

Crall said he wants politics to stay out of it, telling his colleagues on the board, “In deference to the Secretary of State, these kinds of things must not become political. I’ve seen that in the past, I was a part of that in the past. It was inappropriate. It was unwarranted. But they can become political theater. There’s an 18a question here. There are other questions that are raised, but the only thing for us is the 18a question and whether or not 18a was appropriately followed and whether or not there was an dereliction of duty relative to 18a. That’s it.”

With Grimes’ name being tossed around for a gubernatorial candidate, Crall says he knows this could have political implications.

“Given those sensitivities, we wanted to not have this lingering. If I were the Secretary of State, I wouldn’t want this lingering.”

Grimes’ office issued a statement about the investigation. It said, “The Personnel Board, a majority Republican-appointed panel, has no jurisdiction to determine access to Kentucky’s voter registration system. The bipartisan Board of Elections two weeks ago unanimously reaffirmed the Secretary of State’s access to information from that system, all of which is public information with the exception of Social Security Numbers, and used by each of the Commonwealth’s 120 partisan-elected county clerks.”

Other than the two elected people, the entire board of personnel was appointed by Governor Matt Bevin who has had a long standing adversarial relationship with Grimes. The Secretary of Personnel is also a Bevin appointee.


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