The1st meeting of the Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government was held on Tuesday, September 23, 2008, at 1:00 PM, in Room 171 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Damon Thayer, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Damon Thayer, Co-Chair; Senators Carroll Gibson, Ernie Harris, Alice Forgy Kerr, and Elizabeth Tori; Representatives Kevin D. Bratcher, Mike Cherry, Larry Clark, Tim Firkins, Mike Harmon, Melvin B. Henley, Mary Lou Marzian, John Will Stacy, Kathy W. Stein, and Greg Stumbo.
Guests: Trey Grayson, Secretary of State; Sarah Ball Johnson, State Board of Elections; Sarah Jackson, Emily Dennis, and Rhonda Farmer, Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
LRC Staff: Judy Fritz, Bill VanArsdall, and Terisa Roland.
Senator Thayer announced three new members to the Task Force; Senators Ernie Harris, Johnny Ray Turner, and Ed Worley.
Secretary of State Trey Grayson, and Sarah Ball Johnson, Executive Director of the State Board of Elections, gave updates on the 2008 Primary, and the distribution to the counties of the remaining Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds.
Secretary Grayson reported that there was record voter participation for the 2008 Primary. He noted that though the final numbers were not yet available, the turnout was approximately 32% or maybe higher. He stated that he expects the same for the General Election in November.
Secretary Grayson announced that before the Primary seven counties phased out their older voting systems and replaced them with optical scanned balloting, similar to what Jefferson County has used for twenty years. Secretary Grayson distributed a chart that correlated voter turnout by county.
Representative Clark asked for Secretary Grayson’s prediction for the upcoming election for voter turnout. He said it was a little early but he believed it would be a little higher than the 65% statewide participation four years ago.
Representative Clark asked how many new voters had been registered this year. Secretary Grayson said that there were more new Democrats in raw numbers registering. He said over the past five to ten years, Republicans had been gaining ground, relatively speaking, but that currently more people are registering as Democrats. Secretary Grayson said the numbers for mid September 2008, were 1,656,242 registered Democrats; 1,049,459 registered Republicans; and 188,598 registered as “Others”, for a total of 2,894,299 registered voters in Kentucky. In 2004, there were about 2,794,000 registered voters, so voter registration has increased by approximately 100,000 registered voters. He stated that 37,000 persons have registered since the Primary.
Representative Bratcher complimented the secretary on the Kentucky Secretary of State (KYSOS) website. He asked who designed the site. Secretary Grayson gave credit to John Y. Brown, III for spearing heading the project when Mr. Brown was Secretary of State. He added that the current KYSOS staff continues to improve the site and to make it more user friendly.
Representative Bratcher asked if every single vote had a paper trial. Secretary Grayson explained that the voting system is voter verifiable – but that there is no “paper trial” per se. He opined that he has confidence in the current voting systems used in the Commonwealth.
Representative Stumbo asked about standardizing machines statewide and if such standardization would be possible, as well as, a cost saving to the state. Secretary Grayson replied that currently there are three types of machines used in the Commonwealth and that each is supplied and serviced by a different company. Such standardization might save money but it would require transitional training for poll workers, and would be an effort that would require coordination, input, and cooperation among local officials.
Sarah Ball Johnson, Executive Director of the State Board of Elections (Board) discussed disbursement of federal HAVA money. She stated that from the original $32 million received by the state, $19 million remains, including interest earned. She stated that the Board has obligated $15.8 million to counties to be reimbursed for the purchase of voting machines, of which $3.7 million has already been spent. The remaining HAVA funds will be spent on: voter education; funding of on-line absentee voting; and an upgrade from a main frame data system to one that will be web based. (Spread sheet for Voting Equipment and Update on HAVA Disbursements in folders.)
Senator Thayer asked when the counties reimbursements and other project expenditures would be completed. Ms. Johnson said the current Memorandums of Agreement (MOA) are in effect for the entire biennium. However, she clarified that the HAVA funds were dedicated and if the counties had not spent the money during the timeframe specified in the MOA, additional MOA would be executed. She testified that there is not a deadline when all of the HAVA dollars must be exhausted.
Secretary Grayson announced that Kentucky is one of only six states participating in a program using the Department of Military’s secure email system for voting purposes. Kentucky citizens and military personnel who are overseas, may vote via e-mail thus, cutting the time between when an absentee ballot is cast and when it is received. He said the General Assembly had authorized this participation and that the Commonwealth was appreciative. He further explained that the KYSOS is partnering with a non partisan group called the Overseas Vote Foundation. The foundation facilitates online voter registration and absentee ballot requests for overseas citizens and military persons.
Chairman Thayer directed the members’ attention to two handouts distributed to the Task Force from the Executive Director of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, regarding an upcoming meeting of the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws to be held in Chicago later this year, and an evaluation of each state’s statutory campaign finance disclosure requirements. He asked Secretary Grayson to comment on Kentucky’s evaluation. The secretary said that Kentucky needs additional electronic campaign finance filing requirements, and one more mandatory disclosure report. He reminded the members that such a bill had been proposed during the last four Sessions.
Chairman Thayer concluded all Business and the meeting was adjourned at 2:00 p.m.