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Election deniers seek to oust Kentucky Republican Michael Adams who expanded voting access


Republican Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams swears he won’t play with Holocaust deniers.

He does not want to remove the state from ERIC, an interstate database of voter information that has been targeted by conspiracy theorists. And he thinks manually counting the ballots, as one opponent suggested, “would be a disaster.”

He could lose his job for saying all that, but he’s okay with that too.

Adams, the first-term incumbent, will face two challengers in Tuesday’s Republican primary for secretary of state. Stephen Knipper, an information technology project manager who ran for secretary of state in 2019, and Allen Maricle, a former state lawmaker, have both campaigned over allegations of fraud electoral.

“The other lesson I’ve learned from what’s happened to my colleagues in other states – the incumbent Republicans of this office – is that if you feed the tiger, it still eats you. If you give in and walk into these conspiracy theories, all of this just validates them,” he said. “You don’t get any respect or love for what you did, if you give in they still eat you alive. …I’m not going to fall for this.

Adams said he ‘sympathizes’ with Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a Republican, who said last month he would not run for office this year due to ‘pervasive lies’ about the election .

“He’s a conservative Republican. He organized clean elections in this state. And he actually went a little further, I guess, to the right than me: he pulled out of ERIC and things like that, and that wasn’t enough,” he said. “He still had to give up, because the environment is so ugly right now.”

Adams took office in 2020. Soon after, the coronavirus made it dangerous to rally at the polls, and Adams teamed up with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, to expand voting access through powers emergency spouses. They expanded mail-in voting and opened countywide voting supercenters in large venues. Turnout surged, and Kentucky was hailed as a model for pandemic primaries.

The following year, as Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country made headlines for enacting tough voting restrictions and drastically curtailing mail-in voting, lawmakers in Kentucky — led by Adams — bucked the trend. With bipartisan support, the state enacted legislation that added three days of early voting, made supercenters a permanent option for counties, and created an online portal to register to vote and request ballots, all adding new restrictions – like banning the collection of ballots – in the name of electoral integrity.

The state previously had some of the strictest election laws in effect — and still has some despite the modest expansion in 2021 — but the legislation was a notable outlier in a year dominated by hyperpartisan election legislation. It also helped put the Republican secretary in the crosshairs of election deniers.

Knipper, who did not respond to an email interview request, was hosting a “Restore Election Integrity” tour of the state in 2021, saying Donald Trump won the 2020 election and that he personally seen hackers manipulate US election results online, according to The State Journal. He criticized supercentres and early voting codified in the 2021 law and fought against the use of electronic voting machines.

Maricle, who raised far less money than Knipper, didn’t go as far in his rhetoric (he called Knipper a ‘crazy job’) but still argued there was significant election fraud. of Kentucky, especially in mail-in voting. He did not respond to an interview request sent through his website.

Both challengers said Kentucky should leave ERIC, the Electronic Registration Information Center. The interstate database recently came under fire from right-wing activists across the country, who falsely claimed that ERIC was funded by liberal billionaire George Soros and encouraged voter fraud.

In fact, the system allows states to alert each other when voters travel and register to vote elsewhere, helping member states clean up their voter rolls.

Member States fund and manage the ERIC; they received seed funding and a one-time grant in 2019 from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Groups affiliated with Soros have funded other programs within Pew, according to Shane Hamlin, executive director of ERIC.

Virginia recently became the eighth state to leave the coalition. Maricle says it’s ‘risky’ on her website, while Knipper said ‘our voter rolls are controlled by a George Soros system’.

Adams said ERIC is a useful tool in election administration.

“It’s a shame he was demagogued, but we’ll just ignore all the nonsense and stay in the partnership. I could lose my job because of this, but there’s no other way for me to fulfill my legal oath to get these scrolls cleaned,” he said.

Adams said he would agree with either of Tuesday’s primary results.

“On a personal level, I won’t be that disappointed – I miss the privacy a bit. It’s been really, really hard work. When I raced, I didn’t think I was going to get any death threats. . I thought I was going to push a bunch of papers,” he said.

Still, he’s optimistic he’ll get another four years: “I can accept the result anyway, but I really hope we get through this. I really think I’m going to win.”

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.