The candidates for Kentucky Secretary of State are sparring over the issue of registering homeless people to vote, which is becoming the first line of attack in the race for the commonwealth’s chief election officer.
Earlier this month, the state board of elections sent a 2-page memorandum to county clerks telling them to uphold up state law and approve registration cards that have “homeless” or “place to place” listed under their addresses. The memo said a clerk should not refuse to register a homeless person on the grounds they do not have a traditional residence, but some county officials raised concerns about potential election fraud.
Citing state law and the now-defunct community organizing group ACORN, Republican candidate Bill Johnson decried the memo and called on current Secretary of State Elaine Walker, who chairs the state board, to resign from office.
He declared “No Address, No Voter Registration” on his website last week and told WFPL in a telephone interview he plans to file a legal challenge against the state board along with an ethics complaint against Walker before the end of the week.
Johnson says he’s not opposed to homeless people voting and understands their plight, but they should have to list an address to avoid voter fraud.
“When you look at Kentucky statuette it says that to properly register to vote you must provide an address. Now that address needs to be some identifiable place which you live and it just can’t say place to place or in your car, for example,” he says. “And it’s important because without an address we can’t determine residency, which is one of the eligibility requirements.”However, the list of requirements on the secretary of state’s office does not mention residency and a Walker spokesperson points out the courts have ruled against refusing to allow homeless people to register on the grounds that they fail to inhabit a traditional residence because it violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
In response to Johnson’s charges that she is “unfit” for office because she supports the homeless’ right to vote without an address, Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes says Johnson is restricting voting rights to property owners and is unfamiliar with state law.
“No group—regardless of your economic status—should be denied the most basic right that each of us are entitled to here in the commonwealth of Kentucky and that’s our right to exercise our voice on Election Day,” she says. “As a candidate for secretary of state, I would expect and hope that Mr. Johnson would know better. The bill of rights provides that are elections shall be free and fair to all individuals regardless of their economic status.”
The memorandum does address ways county clerks should deal with an incomplete voter registration card. It instructs election officials to “make all attempts to contact” individuals if a telephone number or mailing address is provided. It also says if the application uses the description of an address then clerks should assign the corresponding precinct.
If a person lists “place to place” or “homeless” then state officials should place the voter in the precinct containing the county clerk’s office.