Losing candidate to learn the cost for recount in local Senate Republican primary

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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This article has been corrected. Please see the note at the bottom.

Jessica Neal plans to pay for a recount of the Republican primary in the 24th Senate District following a court hearing that attracted multiple local elected officials.

Neal lost the three-way May primary, finishing in second place by three percent to winner Shelley Funke Frommeyer.

Neal filed a petition for a recount on May 27, ten days after the primary election. She serves on the Campbell County Republican Party’s election integrity committee and previously penned an op-ed published at LINK nky suggesting that the election system is broken and that there is fraud present in it.

“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.”

Earlier this month, the state Board of Elections sought to have Neal’s effort dismissed but that motion was denied.

In order for the recount to take place, Campbell Circuit Judge Daniel Zalla said it would cost at least $23,544 for a team of 12 to hand count the ballots. This price doesn’t include the cost of security, or any additional costs. Toward the end of the hearing, Zalla increased the number of those who will be counting the ballots to 16, which will raise the cost of the bond.

Zalla’s expected to release the exact amount Tuesday.

All counties included in the 24th Senate District will now have to prepare for a recount. The district includes all of Campbell, Pendleton, and Bracken counties and a small portion of Kenton County.

Plans from the counties must be submitted by Tuesday, August 2 with a recount set to start on August 8. The primary election must be certified by August 22.

“I plan to” pay for the recount, Neal said to LINK nky after the hearing on Thursday. Neal has also recently filed to run for Cold Spring city council, a race that did not require participation in a primary and had a filing deadline in June. 

Thursday’s hearing attracted the county clerks of Campbell, Kenton, Pendleton, and Bracken counties, as well as county attorneys.

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It was a hectic day in Zalla’s Campbell County courtroom with all county clerks in attendance. Gabrielle Summe from Kenton, Jim Luersen from Campbell, Rita Spencer from Pendleton, and Rae Jean Poe from Bracken were all subpoenaed to participate in the hearing.

Taylor Brown, a lawyer from the State Board of Elections, and Jennifer Scutchfield, the assistant Secretary of State, presented questioning to Neal from their side. Neal, representing herself, brought a slew of witnesses to the stand, including State Senator Adrienne Southworth (R-Lawrenceburg), an outspoken critic of elections in Kentucky. 

“I think if you look at the recounts in any other states, the supposed expert (Sen. Adrienne Southworth) testified, a lot of them require (the election count) be close,” Scutchfield said. She referenced another candidate seeking a recount, Gerardo Serrano, who lost to U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers in the 5th Congressional District Republican primary by 82,000 votes, or 82 to 6 percent.

Secretary of State Michael Adams has called for legislation to be introduced in Frankfort that would only allow recounts if an election is lost by one percent or less. In Kentucky, candidates can ask for a recanvass at no charge, but recounts must be paid for by the petitioner. In this instance, Neal lost by three percent.

(A recanvass reviews the vote totals, while a recount must be ordered by a circuit court judge and includes examining each ballot.)

“This is an abuse of the system and an abuse of the county clerks’ time, the courts’ time,” Scutchfield said.

“It’s kind of interesting to hear a lot of things going back and forth,” Southworth said after the hearing. “First, they claim they know what they’re doing, and then they turn around and say, ‘I have no idea. We’re all flying blind.’ It will be interesting to see what kind of process they pick.”

Southworth is known for her “Restore Election Integrity tours” that have traveled throughout Kentucky, promoting false claims that the voting machines in Kentucky are connected to the internet, a claim that’s been repeatedly dismissed by the secretary of state. Along with Southworth, Stephen Knipper, an Erlanger city councilman, and former staffer to former Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton also conducted the tours.

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Southworth is a vocal proponent of recounts and hand counting ballots in Kentucky, and her fellow legislators fervently disagree.

“I would say that the best friend of a fraudster is hand-counting ballots,” said Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) in a recent legislative interim committee meeting. “That would be the worst thing we could possibly do.”  

On the Senate floor, Southworth is often not seconded on motions, leaving her amendments to die silently in the upper chamber of the Kentucky General Assembly. Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown), the majority floor leader in the Senate, often talks Southworth’s claims down. 

“We don’t have the time to debunk all this,” Thayer said in April on the Senate floor regarding Southworth’s claims that voting machines in Kentucky are connected to the internet. “I have to tell you: Almost every point that the senator from Anderson (county) made is, in fact, wrong. And telling people time and time again that their vote doesn’t count leads to less voter turnout, not more, and it’s irresponsible.”  

On this day, Brown brought the questioning to Southworth, who claimed on a submitted report that she provided “expert” testimony, a claim that Brown attacked when Southworth cited the information of which neither he nor Judge Zalla had received a copy. Brown questioned Southworth’s credentials as an expert. 

“I don’t disagree with you, but I’m going to let the evidence be entered into the record,” Zalla said when Brown said that Southworth can’t give “expert” testimony. 

In the report, Southworth listed herself as an “expert” in the summary. Brown asked if she considered herself an expert, and she said no. 

“It says right here ‘expert summary,'” Brown said, referring to the report. Southworth, who said she’s pioneering this in Kentucky, said she hadn’t been certified by anybody but spent time in her former career counting paper. 

“Have you participated in an election recount?,” Brown asked. 

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“No,” Southworth said. 

Southworth then compared voting machines to Toyota Celicas. 

“If I have a Toyota Celica and you have a Toyota Celica, it doesn’t mean that yours leaks oil,” she said. 

As Southworth was preparing to leave the stand, Brown requested that the judge not consider her an “expert” witness. Zalla agreed and told her that she wasn’t an expert. After the hearing, when questioned about this, Southworth said it was semantics. 

“Whenever you’re in a court situation, it’s pretty narrow wording,” Southworth said. “He said he wouldn’t consider me an expert on recounts in Kentucky, and most of my testimony was about recounts elsewhere.”

She elaborated that she’s done a lot of research and participated in recounts. When questioned if she’s been helping the candidates involved with recount requests in Kentucky with any of the legal aspects, such as writing briefs, she said no. Neal also said she wasn’t receiving legal help when representing herself. 

“Integrity of the machines are of the utmost importance,” Luersen said, regarding the machines being out of their secure location. 

Luersen also detailed the monumental task it would take to get the machines from their secure location to the Campbell Fiscal Court in order for a recount to take place. The machines will need a police escort to and from their secure location. They will also need a continuous security presence at the court house, where there’s much more people traffic.

“These machines are the backbone of our election,” Luersen said, elaborating that only a select few in the Campbell County Board of Elections have access to the machine’s secure location.

All four counties will also be responsible for bring their machines to the court.

Correction: An earlier version of the article stated that Jim Luersen was named in the original lawsuit and he was not. Additionally, the earlier version of this article reported that the cost of the bond was $23,000, but that was just for the cost of the employees to hand count the ballots. The full cost of the bond will be released soon, LINK nky is told.

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