Kentucky’s county clerks deal with misinformation as election approaches
County clerk offices across Kentucky have seen a rise in open records requests ahead of the midterm elections, which they say have been fueled by conspiracy theories.
Clerks are the frontlines of election security and administration in Kentucky, making sure balloting is accurate, safe and legal.
Pulaski County Clerk Linda Burnett said the number of requests has ballooned since the 2020 election, when former President Donald Trump encouraged supporters to question results with no basis. She says many requests are from out of state and repetitive.
“It’s just the same thing, just over and over. What kind of voting equipment did we use? Is it connected to the internet? I really don’t understand why they even request this information if they’ve done their homework to start with,” she said.
The wave of misinformation has taken a toll on county clerks. According to Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams, nine county clerks retired before the end of their terms this year and 13 didn’t seek reelection.
In Kentucky and across the country,election officials have received death threats.
Burnett said many people have been asking for information that can’t be provided, or doesn’t exist.
“Most of the time, they don’t really know what they’re asking for. To me, the biggest part of it is when they’re trying to make it look like we’re not being honest about our elections,” she said.
Daviess County Clerk Leslie McCarty said she’s been working hard to be as transparent as possible about the voting process, but it never seems to be enough for voters pushing misinformation.
“People can come here and see our voting machines, ask us about our regulations and the process of certifying poll books. But they are still in denial. I don’t understand that,” she said.
University of Kentucky law professor Joshua Douglas said the time and effort spent on these requests takes away from the actual work needed to keep elections free and fair.
“They’re not actually trying to improve the state’s elections, they’re trying to create this narrative about stolen elections which is false. Because if they’re actually concerned, they should give county clerks the time they need to prepare for that,” he said.
Douglas said the flood of “frivolous” records requests is a symptom of a broader trend of trying to relitigate the 2020 election.
“We have entered this period where people won’t accept a loss. If they lose, it must be because of some kind of fraud or conspiracy. To have a well-functioning democracy, we need to create a culture where the losers accept defeat,” he said.
The general election is on Nov. 8. You can access polling place information at GoVoteKY.com.