Secretary of State calls local candidate’s election challenge ‘frivolous’

Jessica Neal gathers her papers before heading into Judge Daniel Zalla's chambers for a conference. Photo by Mark Payne | LINK nky

The Kentucky Secretary of State called a local candidate’s lawsuit challenging her election loss frivolous.

Jessica Neal finished second in the three-way Republican primary for Kentucky Senate District 24, an open seat currently held by the retiring Wil Schroder (R-Wilder). Shelley Funke Frommeyer defeated Neal, who serves on the Campbell County Republican Party’s election integrity committee.

Neal wants a recount.

“If Ms. Neal had evidence of impropriety, she could provide it to the court, law enforcement, and election officials, but she has failed to do so,” said Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams. “She should not bring a frivolous lawsuit to challenge an election whose outcome she admits will not change.”

Neal didn’t respond to request for comment for this article.

A Memorandum of Law issued by the state Board of Elections explains that in a pre-trial conference before a hearing on June 9, Neal, along with Board of Elections Attorney Taylor Austin Brown and Campbell County Judge Daniel Zalla, is not seeking to show that she won the election but to expose fraud.

“In discussing this matter before the Court, Petitioner has stated that she would be satisfied with only a partial recount, alleging not that this will prove she in-fact won his primary, but that somehow a partial recount will allow her to expose a grand scheme to disenfranchise the voters of the Commonwealth,” the memorandum reads.

Second-place finisher Neal lost the election to Frommeyer by a vote count of 4,094 to 3,797. Chris Robinson came in third with a tally of 2,731 votes. Neal said she “hopes there’s not” any fraud in this case but wants a recount to make sure.

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The first-time candidate is defending herself in court despite not being a lawyer. She is only seeking a recount in Campbell County, though Senate District 24 also includes all of Pendleton and Bracken counties as well as part of Kenton.

When asked by LINK nky last week if she’s getting help, she said, “I’m just doing a lot of research, and that’s all I can say about that.”

In the conference before the hearing, Neal requested the signature rosters of voters, but the process recently changed to a digital form rather than large, paper rosters. The digital forms allow county clerks to have a variety of reports to show who has voted, who hasn’t voted, and who’s eligible but didn’t vote.

“These people need to request those specific reports,” Brown said, but Neal didn’t seem to “have any idea of what we were talking about.”

Neal filed a petition, including the Campbell County Clerk’s Office, the State Board of Elections, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, and Secretary of State Michael Adams, for a recount on May 27, prompting a court hearing on June 9 to determine the cost.

The court required the attorney for the BOE to determine if Neal could only pay the partial bond for a recount because she didn’t include the other counties in the district.

“At the initial hearing regarding the bond statutorily required to be posted by the Petitioner, the Court requested a briefing on whether Petitioner could recount only some of the votes cast, and if so, would the bond only need to cover that partial cost?” the memorandum reads. “The answers are yes, as to the former, and no, as to the latter.”

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In other words, Neal can’t pay for just a partial recount. The judge will ultimately make the final decision.

Brown filed a motion to dismiss the case ahead of last week’s hearing because Neal failed to mention the other counties and her opponents in the race.

“Petitioner fails to name the County Clerks of those counties, who have custody of the election materials necessary to conduct a recount, as Respondents,” Brown wrote in his filing. “The Petitioner fails to name either of her other two Republican challengers as well.”

Neal isn’t alone in pursuing recounts. Across the state, six other candidates with similar political leanings have filed for recounts, despite losing by wide margins. The judges in those cases have been setting large bond amounts. In one case, Bridgette Ehly ran against House Speaker David Osborne (R-Prospect) and lost 68 to 32 percent in the GOP primary. Despite losing by such a large margin, she still requested a recount to expose what she alleged as fraud, but the judge set the bond amount to $21,700.

In Kentucky, political candidates who lose by less than one percent can request a recanvass, which reviews the vote totals. A recount includes examining a ballot; in those cases, a petitioner must post a bond. A recanvass reviews the vote totals, while a recount must be ordered by a circuit court judge and includes examining each ballot.

Brown believes that the losing candidates who are requesting recounts are just trying to drum up fear and mistrust with the election equipment. Neal thinks that she can prove these claims with just a small sample size, according to Brown.

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“There’s no need to look at Kenton and the other two counties if you can just look at Campbell,” Brown said.

Frommeyer declared victory in the May 17 primary and is set to face Democrat and Highland Heights city councilmember Rene Heinrich in the fall.

“Everyone is invited to watch the setting of machines before the election if they want to if they want to check out the machinery, and I think one of the quotes was ‘look under the hood,'” Brown said. ‘The public’s invited to check it out.”