FRANKFORT — Kentucky's elections chief said Thursday that a delay in certifying statewide primary election results showed a lack of oversight at the State Board of Elections, which she blamed on a new state law that removed much of her authority over the board.
The elections board on Tuesday held off the certification after Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes pointed to discrepancies in vote counts. The inconsistencies won't change any outcomes of last month's primary election. The board is scheduled to meet again Friday.
"Never before has the State Board of Elections convened and had a report set before it for certification that had errors — let alone 50-plus errors in 20-plus counties," Grimes said Thursday.
Grimes told reporters that the way the process evolved "should alarm every voter" in Kentucky, and she blamed the new law for weakening oversight of the elections board.
"Right now at the State Board of Elections, we have a ship without a captain," she said.
A group of county clerks pushed back immediately against the alarms sounded by Grimes.
Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins Jr., speaking for a half-dozen clerks who gathered outside Grimes' office at the statehouse, said it's typical to have discrepancies prior to certification of election results. He said the process is working because the errors are being corrected.
"What we're hearing is a non-issue that occurs every single election," Blevins told reporters.
Blevins said it became an issue this time because some "gamesmanship" is occurring.
"I want to reassure the public and say it's OK, nothing is wrong," he said.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, who led the push for the new law, said he has "complete faith" in the elections board to properly certify the election results.
There's nothing in that law that affected the certification process, he told reporters.
"I think she's fabricating chaos to make herself look more relevant," Thayer said of Grimes.
The law, enacted this year by the Republican-dominated legislature, removes the secretary of state as chairman and a voting member of the elections board. Grimes said she now has no say over the board's day-to-day operations. The measure carried an emergency clause allowing it to take effect immediately after GOP Gov. Matt Bevin signed it.
Grimes, one of the state's most prominent Democrats, says the law was politically motivated.
A judge recently denied her request to temporarily block the law.
Many of the discrepancies that Grimes pointed to amounted to a handful of votes for certain candidates. But in one instance, Ryan Quarles could have been shortchanged several hundred votes in one county as he won his primary in his reelection bid as state agriculture commissioner.
The elections board, in a statement issued Thursday, stressed that tabulating and monitoring elections require a partnership among officials in state government and in the state's 120 counties. The board said the "successful administration" of elections has "never been reliant on the actions of any one individual."
Grimes is in her second term as secretary of state and cannot seek reelection this year because of term limits. She considered running for governor this year but decided against it. Grimes lost a high-profile U.S. Senate race against Republican Mitch McConnell in 2014.