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Kentucky election experts warn against misinformation, debunk fraud claims

Voting occurs at Fairdale High School.
Voting occurs at Fairdale High School.

Kentucky’s top election officials debunked claims of voter fraud and election misinformation during a legislative meeting on Tuesday.

Assistant Secretary of State Jenni Scutchfield said as conspiracy theories continue to spread about election security, the state had made improvements in cleaning up voter rolls, auditing processes, absentee ballot tracking and bans on ballot harvesting.

Despite repeated claims from politicians like Republican state Sen. Adrienne Southworth, Scutchfield emphasized that “the internet has nothing to do with Kentucky’s voting machines.”

“I think it’s very important to state that the voting machines are not connected to the internet, they do not have modems within them. Results are tabulated on a precinct level by poll workers. There is no internet involved,” she said.

Scutchfield made the comments during an interim meeting of the Joint State Government Committee.

During the meeting, Southworth said she repeatedly hears from constituents concerned about “vulnerable election machines,” and wants a system where local officials hand-count ballots.

“They want paper ballots and hand counts at the precinct level." Southworth said.

Election results are tabulated by local county boards of elections, which include the county clerk, sheriff and representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties.

During the meeting, lawmakers asked about a conspiracy theory that circulated on social media in 2019, when CNN showed then-Gov. Matt Bevin’s vote tally dropping while his opponent Andy Beshear’s total rose. Election deniers have pointed to the incident as evidence of fraud. 

The AP reported that the drop in numbers was due to a typo, according to a data firm that was contracted by the state to provide election results, and that the error was corrected minutes later. The firm also said a Henderson County reporter had accidentally read the vote total backwards. The reporter’s misreading of the vote tally had led to Bevin’s vote count increasing by 560 votes. 

The theory has been in circulation since a 2019 press conference of Bevin’s campaign supporters alleging election fraud based on the CNN clip.

State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Sellers called the incident an example of “fat-fingering,”, or mistyping a number.

“This was fat fingered by somebody who went to Henderson County and switched the numbers. The reality is, media and TV stations don’t get their information from the State Board of Election websites. They’re getting it from the doors of county precincts,” she said.

Sellers said the state did not renew the firm’s contract.

“We made a conscious decision to create our own election night reporting system after that. So, we are our own election night reporting vendor, which should make people feel more secure, and I apologize for the delay in reporting,” she said.

“Unofficial results are really for our entertainment and instant gratification, and we really need to keep that in mind.” 

Rep. Kevin Bratcher, a Republican from Louisville and co-chair of the committee, said he was initially “concerned” about the rumors, but didn’t believe them.

“I understood the problem that it was just a matter of reporting. You had to have so many people involved in that conspiracy for it to be true,” he said.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.