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Judge rules in favor of Democratic Party in lawsuit filed over 165,000 voters moved to inactive list

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

A Franklin Circuit Judge Monday afternoon ruled in favor of the Kentucky Democratic Party in their lawsuit filed over moving 165,000 registered Kentucky voters to an inactive list.

The suit was filed at Franklin Circuit Court by the Kentucky Democratic Party against the State Board of Elections, and Attorney Anna Whites said following oral arguments Monday morning that while she is representing Kentucky Democrats, “We need to understand that this is really a bipartisan issue, because voters affected are almost 50-50 Democrat and Republican.”

The State Board of Elections said the list was created due to a consent decree issued in federal court, because of a case brought successfully by the conservative group Judicial Watch, claiming Kentucky had not been purging voter rolls as they should have, leading some counties to have more registered voters than voting-age population.

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate hears arguments on the case. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

Whites argued that having a second inactive list would have a chilling effect on voters, as those voters on the list would be pulled from the line, made to sign an oath, and possibly have to wait for action by the County Clerk, County Board of Elections or a circuit judge before they could vote.

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate wondered why not place an asterisk by the voter’s name on the master list, rather than be placed on a second one, and Whites says she could go along with that.

“I think that would make sense to me,” she said. “That makes it simple, clear, and that way we have a list of when any political party, any voter, any member of the public, wants a master list of registered voters, that’s the list they get. It makes it complicated when there is a separate form for inactive voters.”

Jared Dearing, Executive Director of the State Board of Elections, disagreed, saying it is making up a process that has never existed before. “If we have a process that has been in place for many years, that the poll workers have been trained on for decades, that the voters even understand on some level, that’s the process we should be moving forward with.”

The Civil Rights Division of the U. S. Department of Justice also attended the Monday hearing. Attorney Michell Rupp said they wish to file a friend of the court brief, since a federal consent decree is involved which requires their intervention. “Even though 2019 is not a federal election”, Rupp said, “This affects federal elections.”

In his eight-page ruling, Wingate stated, “The Plaintiff [the KDP] is entitled to injunctive relief. Despite the statement by Jared Dearing that the practice currently employed by the State Board of Elections, ‘is what has been done for decades,’ Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes claims otherwise.”

Wingate also noted, “It is the Court’s understanding that the process presently being used by the State Board of Elections has not been voted on, and in fact will come for a vote before the Board on Tuesday, October 15.”

He continued, “As federal law requires any changes to the voter list to happen 90 days before the election, it is the Court’s finding that the best practice to ensure a just and fair election throughout the Commonwealth, is for the time being, to return to the status quo and utilize one master voter list and place an asterisk by the necessary names of voters to alert poll workers to confirm the voter’s address.”

Wingate added, “The use of oath of voter cards is unnecessary and has a chilling effect on voters in the Commonwealth.”

He also ordered the State Board of Elections to notify county clerks and poll workers to make any needed training correction.

Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Ben Self issued a statement on the ruling:

“We’re very pleased with Judge Wingate’s quick ruling to restore all voters back to a single master voter list and believe this decision was necessary to protect Kentucky voters and ensure the integrity of the 2019 election. It’s critical that Kentucky voters have a clear understanding of the process for voting on November 5th, no matter their party. The Kentucky Democratic Party is committed to making sure that while the state is updating the voter rolls the rights of Kentucky voters are protected and all state laws are followed during the process so that voters do not face any unnecessary or unfair burdens at the polls.”

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