Politics

A fired staff member of the State Board of Elections is alleging that the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office improperly handled voter information and awarded a security contract to a campaign donor without proper approval.

Matt Selph, who was the assistant director to the State Board of Elections until Tuesday, said he was fired for “asking questions” about the operations of the board, which is chaired by Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

“I started asking questions that I thought were pretty innocent,” Selph said. “I started noticing a lot of crazy things that were happening directly after those questions.”

Selph sent a letter to board members on Oct. 21 making several allegations about the board’s operations. He and the board’s director, Maryellen Allen, were dismissed in a closed-session 3-2 vote Tuesday.

When asked about Selph’s letter and the dismissals, Grimes’ communications director Bradford Queen issued the following statement:

“The State Board of Elections took bipartisan action to change leadership. The members appreciate the service of Ms. Allen and Mr. Selph. The Board appointed a hiring committee for a new director and assistant to the director.”

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Queen added that the vote to terminate Allen and Selph did not include Grimes.

In his letter to the board, Selph details a conversation with a staffer in the Secretary of State’s Office who said he was directed to retrieve voter registration data from the election board’s database.

“All kinds of data, like during their elections, they would ask me to come over here and get data for them,” the staffer said according to Selph’s letter.

“Probably 3 or 4 times…every time they were running.”

Political candidates can access some voter registration data, but it costs $450 and requires approval of the State Board of Elections. Also, some information is not included in voter registration data given to candidates — including voter registration numbers and Social Security numbers.

According to a 2010 advisory opinion from the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, the Secretary of State does not have unfettered access to the voter registration database.

In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, Grimes’s spokesman Bradford Queen called Selph’s accusations “politically motivated and spurious.”

“In her capacity as a candidate for office, Secretary Grimes has always obtained voter information in the same manner as any other duly qualified candidate. Candidates for office in Kentucky have a number of available alternatives to obtain voter data, including purchasing it from the State Board of Elections or receiving it from political parties. As a result, in her capacity as a candidate, Secretary Grimes would have no reason to obtain voter data by other means.”

Selph also alleged that the Secretary of State’s office improperly approved a contract to election security firm CyberScout without a vote from the State Board of Elections.

Selph said that he and other staffers pushed against contracting with the firm because he felt the company didn’t have the experience or equipment needed to secure the state’s systems.

“Once we started looking into it and said ‘no, we don’t need someone to come in and give us suggestions, we wanted physical things,’” Selph said. “We wanted protections for our servers, we wanted software for scanning.”

The chair of CyberScout’s board — Adam Levin — has contributed $7,200 to Grimes’ political campaigns.

Minutes from a State Board of Elections meeting on February 21, 2017 show that the board voted to “engage with Cyberscout in the future to evaluate election equipment, access to our voting systems, and our procedures including our new processes for electronic poll-books.”

Selph claims that the board didn’t vote to authorize a contract with CyberScout.

Queen said in an email that Selph’s assertion that the Secretary of State’s office improperly awarded a contract is “inaccurate.”

“…As the office does not award contracts; the Finance and Administration Cabinet approves all contracts into which the Commonwealth enters.”

The finance cabinet awarded a $150,000 contract to CyberScout in June.

Selph filed a complaint with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, which he said voted to investigate the matter.

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission cannot comment on the existence of an investigation.

This story has been updated. 

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.