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Ky. Secretary of State Adams says primary win a victory against “misdirection and misinformation”

Secretary of State Michael Adams at the Republicans' 2019 Election Party
J. Tyler Franklin
/
LPM
Secretary of State Michael Adams at Republicans' 2019 Election Party.

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams narrowly beat back Republican challengers on Tuesday who spread conspiracy theories about election integrity and received endorsements from high-profile election deniers.

The Associated Press called the race for Adams around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night. At that time, he was carrying more than 60% of the vote, far more than Steve Knipper, a former member of the Erlanger city council, and former state Rep. Allen Maricle.

While Knipper and Maricle promoted conspiracy theories about voting machine companies “spying” on voters and outright fraud, Adams told voters that he believes the 2020 election was “one of the cleanest we’ve ever seen” in Kentucky.

In an interview ahead of Tuesday’s election, Adams told LPM News that he was confident in Republican voters’ ability to see through the false narratives.

“This is a chance for Republicans to ratify the things we’ve done to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” he said. “But also to say no to misdirection and misinformation, and say we’re not a bunch of backwoods folks that will believe anything, gullibly, that’s given to us. We’re independent thinkers.”

Adams’ core campaign message was his record of “making it easier to vote, and harder to cheat.” He blamed “out-of-state celebrities” and right-wing “media outlets on the coast” for stoking animosity towards elections officials and poll workers by claiming President Joe Biden and Democrats stole the 2020 election. One such celebrity, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, endorsed Knipper’s campaign against Adams.

Knipper pushed claims of voter fraud in Kentucky elections at Lindell’s “Moment of Truth Summit” last year alongside GOP state Sen. Adrienne Southworth. Knipper and Southworth also toured the state in 2021 making unfounded claims about election integrity, including that all presidential elections have been rigged since Ronald Reagan’s win in 1980.

During his campaign, Adams had called out Knipper’s support for recount petitions from conservative “liberty” legislative candidates who lost their primary election bids. At the time, Adams called the petitions, and claims that ballot scanning machines were tampered with, “frivolous.”

Hand recounts ultimately affirmed the initial vote totals.

“So, then they dropped that charge about the tech and they said well it must have been county clerks that were stuffing ballot boxes,” Adams said this week. “No matter what you do, they come up with a new theory.”

While Maricle referred to Knipper as a “nut job” and a “Jim Jones type” on social media, the former state representative from Bullitt County also questioned the security of Kentucky’s elections. He promoted articles on his campaign’s Facebook page about “foreign voting machines” and alleged fraud in the 2020 election.

Both Maricle and Knipper vowed to end Kentucky’s participation in the Election Registration Information Center (ERIC), a bipartisan organization that helps states keep accurate voter rolls by sharing registration information. ERIC has recently come under attack from far-right media outlets who claim the organization helps Democrats win elections.

Adams, meanwhile, called ERIC “a God-send” for election integrity. He said it’s helped Kentucky track voters who have moved out of state and have registered to vote elsewhere.

The move by some of the country’s largest states to pull out of ERIC has caused Adams to question the organization’s usefulness, however. Adams said he plans to reconsider Kentucky’s participation, but he declined to do so ahead of the primary.

“If we had done that, it would look like it was a political decision,” he said. “We’re going to make a thoughtful inquiry, we’re going to see what the value is, we’re going to see what the alternatives are … but those are going to be things we look at objectively.”

After winning his first election in 2019, Adams focused on implementing election security measures typically associated with conservative politics. He worked with the Republican-controlled legislature in 2020 to pass a bill requiring photo identification when voting. He also purged 300,000 people from the state’s voter rolls who he said were no longer eligible to vote.

But Adams also garnered national attention for working with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to expand opportunities to vote in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time, Kentucky held in-person early voting and allowed no-excuse voting by mail. Adams successfully pushed lawmakers to preserve some of those early voting options, even though concerns about the pandemic have waned.

“Even if we lose on Tuesday,” Adams said ahead of the primary, “I think we did the right thing there.”

Adams said it’s been tough to be a Republican election administrator that doesn’t buy into conspiracy theories of widespread fraud. He said he’s running for reelection in order to cement the gains of his first term.

“I’m only doing this because I really feel like I need to protect our state, protect our elections from bad people who will, at best, screw it up,” he said. “If state legislators on the Republican side see that the guy that pushed all of this reform got beat, then the first thing they’d do next session is repeal it so they don’t get primaried.”

Adams will take on Democrat Charles “Buddy” Wheatley in November. Wheatley, a former state representative and fire department chief from Covington, was unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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