Northern Kentucky’s clerks weigh in on the sanctity of elections in the region

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Voters cast their ballots on Election Day. Photo by Abigail Shoyat | LINK nky contributor

Today marks three weeks until the Nov. 8 midterms. This election holds significance in the U.S. and locally because it’s the first major election since 2020. Former President Donald Trump lost the election but falsely claimed President Joe Biden stole the election.

Those who echo Trump’s statements in Kentucky continue to challenge the election process. Locally, Jessica Neal, the second-place finisher in the 24th Senate District race, challenged the results of her race in a recount. 

The recount showed that only one vote changed – due to a voter mishap leading to a missed vote. Campbell County Judge Daniel Zalla handed down a decision that the recount was fair and Neal undoubtedly lost the election – the opinion also said that what Neal had said publicly was drastically different from what she had said under oath during the process. 

“It was a pretty close race, and I firmly believe in making sure we have secure elections,” Neal said in May on her reasoning for a recount. Secretary of State Michael G. Adams, also a Republican, has called Neal’s efforts “frivolous.”

Neal later filed a motion that said there were missing seals from the machines. 

“It is important to note that the machine’s seals will not be broken before the team is ready for counting that particular machine,” the motion reads. “Machines that arrived to the court with seals already broken cannot be verified as to whether their contents reflect the same contents exactly as appeared on election night at 6 p.m. May 17.”

But, Zalla’s motion, based on testimony from Luersen, said that these seals are not critical to the integrity of the voting machines and aren’t required by law. The yellow seals in question were placed on the scanner portion of the machines voluntarily. 

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“We don’t have to put on the seals, but I did because of all the craziness around elections,” Luersen said during the hearing. 

Click here to learn more about the Neal recount and watch testimony from the hearing from Campbell County Clerk Jim Luersen, Jessica Neal, and Stephen Knipper, an Erlanger City Councilman and former chief of staff to former Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, who also co-runs the “Restore Election Integrity Tour” with Sen. Adrienne Southworth (R-Anderson). 

But, as this election approaches, the clerks from Boone County, Campbell County, and Kenton County explained to LINK nky why voters should trust the process. Secretary of State Adams also weighed in on the state’s elections. 

Boone County Clerk Justin Crigler

“We take every protocol and every step possible to make sure the election integrity is held, that everything is upright, fair, and honest and transparency is of utmost importance to us,” said Boone County Clerk Justin Crigler. “Every stage and every step we do is meant to show that from mail-in ballots to election day to early voting, everything we do is beyond transparent. There should be no questions whatsoever of the integrity of our elections here.”

Crigler said his office is always open to take questions. He invites those curious to tour their facility and its voting machines, which are under 24-hour surveillance. 

He also invited those to watch the poll worker training process.

“We’re that confident that we do everything 100% by the books and probably go above and beyond,” Crigler said. “So Boone County citizens can be rest assured that everything is done fairly.”

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He also encourages those who want to be poll workers to reach out to his office. 

Kenton County Clerk Gabrielle Summe

Kenton County Clerk Gabrielle Summe said there are certain things that clerks across the state must do, like adopting new equipment and keeping paper records of everything for audits.

“You also have an evidence trail if there’s ever a recount, so we converted all of our equipment back in 2021,” Summe said. “All of our equipment per statute is required to be built per the specifications or certification from the state board of elections, meaning no internet.” 

Election fraud conspiracy theorists often claim that voting machines connect to the internet in Kentucky, but election officials say it’s completely false.  

Representatives of each party are present for all election-related procedures to ensure fairness throughout the process, Summe added.

Campbell County Clerk Jim Luersen

“When it comes to elections, pretty much everything is in KRS (Kentucky Revised Statutes),” Campbell County Clerk Jim Luersen said. “We follow the law almost every step of the way. First of all our machines have no modems, and it’s physically impossible to connect to the internet or remote control. So the voting machines are all self-contained. The computer that reads the election results at the end of the night is also not online, so there’s no outside interference.

When it comes to the voting machines, Luersen said that there are settings put in place and twice reviewed by the State Board of Elections – a multi-party organization. Poll workers then examine the machines on election morning to ensure they’re properly sealed, correctly numbered, and the ballots are correct.

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“There are so many checks and balances in the system that I feel very confident that everything is fair and efficient and honest,” Luersen said. 

Secretary of State Michael Adams

“From Photo ID to Vote, to cleaning up the voter rolls, to banning ballot harvesting, to adopting paper ballots, to expanding our audit process, Kentucky’s elections have never been more secure than they have been during my term of office,” Adams said.