Editor’s Note: Joshua A. Douglas is a law professor at the University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law. He is the author of “Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting.” Find him at www.joshuaadouglas.com and follow him on Twitter @JoshuaADouglas.
Want to know if our elections are rife with fraud, and whether we should be concerned about election integrity?
Just ask top Republican officials in charge of Kentucky’s elections such as Secretary of State Michael Adams.
The Kentucky Interim Joint Committee on State Government held a hearing last week on election integrity. The message from Assistant Secretary of State Jenni Scutchfield and others who testified before the bipartisan legislative panel: Kentucky’s elections are secure.
That’s quite a different story from the national sentiment among many on the right. Around 70% of Republicans still believe that President Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election due to fraud. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, found guilty on Friday of contempt of Congress, and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell continue to peddle their election lies. Their voices have an outsize influence over a large segment of society, poisoning democratic legitimacy. They want to tear it all down as part of an anti-democracy movement that ultimately seeks to put certain kinds of right-wing zealots in office.
The January 6 congressional hearings serve in part to counter that falsehood, showing how the “Stop the Steal” movement, built on lies about the result of the 2020 election, came from the highest echelons of the White House and led directly to violence at the US Capitol in an effort to undermine democracy.
But these falsehoods persist. Kentucky Republican state Sen. Adrienne Southworth, a member of the legislative panel, has traveled the state on a “Restore Election Integrity” tour, where election officials say she has spread misinformation about election fraud.
Southworth has called for manual counting of paper ballots, which election experts say would open the door to human error and the potential of fraud.
During the Kentucky committee’s hearing last week, Scutchfield meticulously debunked these falsehoods on election fraud and covered the facts on paper ballots, the vote-counting process, voting machines and post-election audits. (Adams appointed Scutchfield as assistant secretary of state.)
Here’s the truth, according to the Kentucky secretary of state’s office: Voting machines are never connected to the internet. Each county appoints an Accuracy Board to test each voting machine before every election. There are safeguards in place to ensure that no one can tamper with voting machines. The machines have “physical and system access controls, including lockable doors, tamper-evident seals and access codes.”
Both a federal agency, the bipartisan US Election Assistance Commission, and the bipartisan Kentucky State Board of Elections certify the machines. The state is moving to paper ballots for all elections as the superior method for people to cast a vote, but using voting machines is the best way to count these ballots quickly without introducing the possibility of fraud.
Paper ballots also make post-election audits easier by having a paper trail to double-check the machine counts. The state has mandated “risk-limiting audits,” which compare the machine counts with a random sample of hand-counted paper ballots. Election administrators agree that risk-limiting audits are a best practice for electoral legitimacy.
Moreover, state law imposes various regulations on county clerks to maintain the security of the ballots, including record-keeping rules about the number of paper ballots used and the number left over. The state also keeps track of all absentee ballots, which are trackable through bar codes.
Kentucky is not unique on this front. Other states have similar policies regarding voting machines and ballot verification to ensure the integrity of the election process. States may differ on rules about voter eligibility, voter registration or voting by mail, but they all employ some form of these best practices for election security.
As Scutchfield told the committee, “(W)e have myths and conspiracies that continue to abound about elections, and these are being promulgated by people that really should know better.”
The pushback in Kentucky has been notable because it is coming from mainstream Republican elected officials. Adams, the secretary of state who has consistently explained that elections are secure, is a strong conservative Republican. State Rep. Jason Nemes, who tweeted that the “truth is Kentuckians can trust that their votes count & that only legal votes count” is a strong Republican. A bipartisan group of county clerks, sheriffs and other election officials issued a public letter affirming the sanctity of the state’s elections. Some mainstream Republicans in Kentucky are trying to squelch the voices of those who seek to undermine democracy, lifting up the truth about election integrity.
That message must spread, especially during this current period of democratic turmoil. Kentucky doesn’t have perfect elections, and its voting laws are often too restrictive, but it recently served as a model on how to achieve bipartisan agreement on voting rules, elevating the legitimacy of our elections through widespread buy-in.
The rest of the nation should also emulate the Kentucky Republicans who are telling the truth about the security of our election system.