Representatives of a tax-recall petition committee responded Friday to allegations in Jefferson County circuit court that organizers altered voter information to help the petition gain certification by the Jefferson county clerk’s office. Judge Brian Edwards’ decision will determine whether votes cast on tax-levy question will be counted.
Organizers of the tax-recall petition do not deny they altered names, addresses and birthdates entered on an online petition to recall a 9.5% property tax increase. Organizer and Louisville Tea Party president Theresa Camoriano says she was just trying to clean up data signers had entered through a website, fixing typos and making sure all necessary info was there.
“People had a hard time,” Camoriano told attorneys during her deposition.
Camoriano said she used a Republican Party database to fill out missing information, or sometimes change information. She said she got the database log-in from Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville), who has been endorsed by the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA).
Petitioner and Louisville Tea Party member Michael Schneider, who helped develop the website, said the group of tax-opponents anticipated challenges with an online platform.
“We realized that a good portion of our Tea Party group is elderly,” Schneider told the court Friday. “So, we tried very carefully to make it as user friendly as possible so that older folks wouldn’t have trouble entering their information.”
But they did have trouble, Schneider said, especially since there were a number of quirks with the website. At first, Schneider said, the field for birthdate required voters to use the European format, with the day of the month first. Then they changed it to a drop-down menu, which Schneider said created more problems.
Asked if he was “uncomfortable” with Camoriano changing the data voters entered, Schneider said no.
“I’m comfortable with that. I think the main thing was to just identify that the person was a voter and intended to sign the petition,” he said.
Camoriano said she did not always reach out individually when she altered voters’ entries.
Jim Sprigler, a web developer hired by JCTA, found 1,110 instances in which it appeared committee members had altered the original data voters entered into the website. Attorneys for the teachers’ union have said it’s possible that voters were signed up by others, who knew their name and address, or even name and block. JCTA says they have contacted 12 people whose names were on the petition without their knowledge.
Schneider maintained he was not comfortable with Camoriano’s decision to add voters signatures to the website who had submitted her written requests to do so. Camoriano said she only did this “a handful” of times.
Camoriano also admitted to adding an alternate address and birth date for at least one person who signed the handwritten version of the petition.
Finally, according to her deposition and emails provided to the court, Camoriano encouraged hundreds of voters to sign the petition a second time in order to make sure they entered all necessary information.
“We have discovered a problem with your entry on the petition that will prevent it from being counted. We are sending this notice to ask you to re-submit your entry on the petition at https://nojcpstaxhike1.com/sign-the-petition/ to be sure that your signature counts,” she wrote in a mass email.
“Rest assured, we will delete duplicate signatures before we submit the petition to the Jefferson County Clerk,” the email reads.
Camoriano told attorneys she “tried very hard” to get rid of duplicates, throwing out thousands of signatures. But Sprigler found at least 928 duplicates in the signatures that were accepted by the county clerk. That does not include duplicates that were found by the county clerk.
An attorney for the petitioners, Dana Howard, has called into question whether some of the alterations Sprigler identified were truly alterations made by the committee. She found one entry where the change in some unusual characters used in a name could have been caused by importing the data from one program into another.
How Many Signatures Are Valid?
Petitioners and the teachers union offered competing calculations as to how many signatures are valid, should the court decide to throw out those with errors and alterations. Petitioners needed 35,517 signatures certified by the county clerk’s office to put the tax question on the ballot. They submitted around 40,000, and the clerk certified 38,507, putting them above the threshold needed.
However, the clerk’s office accepted 2,376 signatures in which deputy clerks found errors, including wrong birthdays or addresses. It is not clear why the clerk’s office accepted some of these errors, and not others. The clerk’s office had about 20 different deputy clerks going through different pages of the signatures, and were supposed to be following certain uniform guidelines, according to depositions with Jefferson County Clerk Government Affairs Executive Frank Friday.
Attorneys for the teachers union argue those 2,376 should be thrown out, along with the other errors and altered signatures identified in Sprigler’s analysis. That would leave petitioners with 33,196 — not enough signatures for a ballot measure. Attorneys offered the following visual:
Meanwhile, attorneys for the petitioners have their own math. Howard said the starting point should be the total signatures the clerk certified, including those with errors. They argue that even if duplicates and unregistered voters identified by Sprigler were thrown out, petitioners would still have 36,356 signatures, which exceeds the threshold. Howard’s math however, left in records with erroneous birthdates, addresses and some duplicates identified by Sprigler. She presented the following chart:
WFPL News also did an analysis, using data provided by attorneys for JCTA. We subtracted all of the errors, duplicates and altered records found by Sprigler from the total number of signatures certified by the county clerk’s office. We left in the 2,376 errors the clerk found and certified anyway. Here’s what we got:
38,507 total signatures certified by the clerk
-192 unregistered signers
-1,312 birth date errors
-1,110 altered electronic entries
-75 altered handwritten entries
That’s 1,509 signatures below the threshold needed to put the referendum on the ballot.
The judge says he’ll issue a ruling by the end of next week. His decision will determine whether votes cast on the tax levy question will be counted.