UPDATED AT 2 P.M.
By Janet Patton – firstname.lastname@example.org
Allegations of vote buying, voter intimidation and other procedural problems at the polls came early and often to the state’s election fraud hot line Tuesday morning.
By 12:45 p.m., the vote fraud hot line had received 41 calls, including complaints of vote buying or selling in nine counties, according to Allison Martin, spokeswoman for Attorney General Jack Conway’s office. The Election Fraud Hotline number is 1-800-328-VOTE, or 1-800-328-8683, and will be open until 7 p.m. EDT Tuesday.
Many of the calls involved the contentious campaign for Kentucky’s open U.S. Senate seat, which features a Republican primary between Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Tea Pary movement favorite Rand Paul.
As secretary of state, Grayson is charged with overseeing the election, so Paul supporters around the state were attempting to scrutinize all aspects of the vote, including voting machines and the tally of absentee ballots.
Katie Gabhart, general counsel for the state Board of Elections, said the Paul campaign has been “very active all over the state.”
She said there was a flurry of complaints in the morning. “We got quite a few complaints about overzealous supporters and we’ve been in contact with the campaign,” Gabhart said. “I can’t tell you no one’s violated the law but if they did, it was individuals and not a global scheme.”
Adams said reports of problems were “much ado about nothing.”
In Laurel County, as polls opened at 6 a.m., someone who said they were with the Paul campaign asked to inspect voting machines, which is allowed before the election but not during voting.
According to Laurel County Clerk Dean Johnson, the sheriff of the voting precinct asked the person to leave, and Johnson instructed the person on the phone that they “had no business being there.”
Johnson said he heard that the person left peacefully.
David Adams, Paul’s campaign manager, said that he is “dubious at this point” about the allegations.
“We’re not sending anybody to cause problems at polling places,” Adams said.
But he said outsiders could be playing a role.
“We had a tip over the weekend that some of our volunteer activities have been infiltrated by (national) Democratic operatives planning to cause problems,” Adams said. “Hopefully, the secretary of state’s office will conduct themselves the way that they’re supposed to and we’ll get through this to a good conclusion.”
Paul had questioned whether Grayson, who is his opponent in the Republican primary, should recuse himself from official duties overseeing the election, but the state Executive Branch Ethics Commission ruled unanimously in March that there was no conflict of interest.
Adams said the campaign gave volunteers instructions on how to legally conduct themselves and has dispatched trained observers to polling places.
Instructions released from the Paul campaign say that volunteers were not to wear any campaign shirts, buttons or stickers at polling places or to set up signs within 300 feet of the poll entrance.
Volunteers were instructed to “ask kindly but do NOT argue” if election officials wouldn’t allow them to verify that voting machines were set to zero before polls opened. But the campaign asked volunteers to “immediately call the election hotline to report these incidents.”
Paul volunteers also were told to present themselves to poll officials at 5:45 p.m. “and identify yourself as a representative of the Rand Paul campaign who will be witnessing the vote counting,” and immediately report violations, according to a campaign document obtained from the state Board of Elections.
In Pulaski County, a Paul observer watched local officials count mail-in ballots. Clerk Ralph Troxtell said the man didn’t say why he was there but closely watched the process of disallowing ballots.
Paul “has people all over the state, from what I’ve been told,” Troxtell said.
No other candidate had someone watch the ballot counting in Pulaski County.
People from the Paul campaign also conducted exit polling, Troxtell said, without incident or voter complaints.
In Jackson and Monroe counties, individuals who said they were with the Paul campaign said they wanted to observe the voting and conduct exit polling, said Les Fugate, an assistant deputy secretary of state. Because they were not previously certified election challengers, they were not allowed to remain in the polling place but were told they could conduct exit polling.
In Jackson County, Fugate said, voters alleged they were then intimidated if they did not say they voted for Paul in the Senate race.
In Monroe County, Paul campaign representatives have called multiple times to clarify how they are allowed to approach voters, Fugate said.
An electioneering complaint also was made in Rockcastle County.
Across the state, Fugate said, there have been a large number of complaints about campaign signs too close to polling locations. No campaign material or signs are allowed within 300 feet of a polling place.
“Some are local, but primarily they have been with one campaign: the Rand Paul campaign,” Fugate said.
Meanwhile, complains of vote buying or selling had been lodged involving nine counties: Breathitt (two calls); Clay (six calls); Jackson (two calls); Knox; Laurel; Leslie (three calls); Magoffin; Perry (two calls); and Wayne.
Complaints about election officials were made in Clay, Jefferson and Pike counties. There allegations of electioneering in Clay, Floyd, Jefferson, Pike and Wolfe counties; general election fraud in Madison County; and complaints about exit polling in Rockcastle and Whitley counties.
Clay County has had a long history of vote-buying, according to testimony at a recent federal trial. In March, a federal jury convicted eight county residents of conspiring to buy and steal votes in elections from 2002 to 2007. Those convicted included a former circuit judge, former school-board superintendent, the county clerk and a magistrate, along with former election workers.
Local officials had said they expected today’s election would be far cleaner than those in recent memory because of the convictions and continuing federal investigation in the county.
Complaints involving local races will be investigated by the attorney general’s office, but complaints involving national races, including the contentious U.S. Senate primary campaigns, will be turned over the U.S. attorney, Martin said.
Complaints about election officials were made in Laurel and Pike counties, according to the attorney general’s office.
About 30 percent of Kentucky voters are expected to go to the polls Tuesday to select party candidates for national, state and local offices.
That turnout rate would be on par with the 2008 and 2006 primaries, Fugate said.