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Discern the truth in SOS allegations

The Kentucky Senate took a rare step this week in issuing a rebuke against Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The Associated Press reported the Republican-dominated Senate passed a bill stemming from accusations that Grimes overreached her authority as the state’s elections chief. Specifically, she is accused of taking a heavy-handed approach to the elections board and abusing her authority.

A previously published report by the Lexington Herald-Leader and the journalism nonprofit ProPublica contends Grimes pushed through a no-bid contract with a political donor’s company, had staff search the state’s voter registration system for information about hundreds of state workers and political rivals and allegedly retaliated against elections board staff when they complained about her actions.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said there are investigations ongoing into the allegations. The legislation, meanwhile, passed by the Senate, restricts the powers of the SOS.

“The very integrity of the office of secretary of state has been brought into question,” said Thayer, the bill’s lead sponsor. “And this legislative body needs to send a strong message to the voters of this commonwealth … with this vote that the integrity of the voter registration rolls in this commonwealth shall not be compromised, no matter who is the elected secretary of state.”

Grimes portrayed the accusations as false and politically motivated. She said her office has “at all times” carried out its duties in compliance with the law.

“I will carefully review any legislation enacted and take all legal actions necessary to preserve the integrity of Kentucky’s elections,” Grimes said in a statement.

She contends state and federal law give her the right to access the voter registration system and directly oversee elections board staff.

The bill would eliminate the secretary of state’s access to the state voter registration rolls and would remove the secretary of state as chairperson of the State Board of Elections. If it were to be passed by the state’s representatives, it would immediately become law.

Democratic Sen. Reggie Thomas of Lexington said the bill is cause for concern because federal law requires every state elections chief have access to national voter registration files.

Our take on this is a neutral, independent party needs to put all of this under the microscope. On its very face, there are two parts of this that are particularly concerning to us — a no-bid contract involving a political donor? Why, at a minimum, given the political connections, wasn’t such a contract put out to bid?

Doing so would have alleviated any potential allegations of a conflict of interest that are now in front of the General Assembly and the public. We believe that awarding a no-bid contract to a political donor is certainly curious. Perhaps it is all on the up and up, but again, on its face, it doesn’t sound quite right.

Another huge concern for us is the allegation that a high-ranking elected official had staff search the voter registration system for information about state workers and political rivals. Is this true? If so, it at a minimum raises very serious issues about abuse of power.

One votes with the intention of doing their civic duty. The idea that a state official might, and we emphasize might, be using the information the voter provides for political purposes is alarming.

Someone needs to get to the bottom of this and find out if it’s true. If so, were any laws broken? If not, are the above mentioned changes to the powers afforded to the SOS the proper remedy?

Much remains unknown. What is known, however, is there needs to be a full vetting to discern the truth.

The Daily Independent of Ashland