Education

Attorneys for the Jefferson County Board of Education (JCBE) and the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) allege Theresa Camoriano, the leader of a tax-recall petition, and president of the Louisville Tea Party, altered thousands of signatures to help the petition pass muster with the Jefferson County Clerk’s office.

“The evidence shows Ms. Camoriano and her daughters changed thousands of handwritten and electronic petition signatures, sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot,” JCTA attorney David Tachau told the court during a virtual trial Tuesday.

The JCTA and the JCBE filed suit in August challenging the validity of Camoriano’s recall petition, which put a 9.5% property tax increase before voters on the November ballot. The school board and the teachers union allege the Jefferson County Clerk’s office incorrectly certified thousands of signatures, including duplicate signatures, and signatures with incorrect addresses and birthdays. The tax levy question is already on the ballot because the challenge came too close to the printing deadline to make any changes. The court’s decision will determine whether votes cast on the issue will count.

On Tuesday, attorneys for the JCTA presented new evidence showing Camoriano and her daughters used a Republican Party database to fill out missing birth dates and addresses for voters whose names had been entered on the petition electronically, bringing into question how many of the signatures are valid. In a deposition with attorneys, Camoriano said she did not keep track of which entries she altered or added to. 

In one case, records show when a man listed a Bullitt County address on a handwritten sheet, Camoriano added a second Jefferson County address, as well as a second, different birthday.

Dana Howard, an attorney for the petitioners, said Camoriano and her daughters only “reformatted” and corrected “minor typos” signers made when they entered their information through the electronic petition Camoriano circulated.

“In this first-time-ever-in-Kentucky electronic online petition, people made errors,” Howard told the court. “They made formatting errors, they put birth dates in the wrong place. They squished numbers and letters together. They made mistakes in the address.”

Camoriano was just cleaning those errors up, Howard said.

Howard said Camoriano added “a handful” of signatures from people who requested in writing that she add them to the petition. She also said Camoriano also threw out more than 5,000 signatures before she submitted the petition to the county clerk’s office.

“There is nothing in the deposition testimony that evidences any type of bad intent, malintent, deliberate, misleading or any of the other words that plaintiffs have used to describe Ms. Camoriano or the petition committee,” Howard said. 

Arguments will continue Wednesday. The court has not yet heard evidence from petitioners’ attorneys. 

According to witness testimony, the petition originated out of discussions at a board meeting of the Louisville Tea Party. Camoriano does not live in the Jefferson County Public School district. She lives in Anchorage Independent School District, which has a higher tax rate than JCPS. Camoriano said she “spearheaded” the effort against the tax increase, and “pushed it forward.”

Another Louisville Tea Party board member, Michael Schneider, undertook creating the website and electronic petition. Schneider told attorneys he added security features to protect the website from hackers. However, he did not add controls that would prevent users from signing more than once, nor did he add a CAPTCHA feature, to prevent signing by bots. 

Schneider said he considered adding CAPTCHA, but that he worried it would limit access for the elderly and people with disabilities, who can struggle to pass the CAPTCHA tests.

Signers were asked to submit their name, address and birthday, which the Jefferson County Clerk’s office uses to compare against voter rolls to determine whether the signer is registered in the school district.

Lawyers for JCTA presented a spreadsheet showing a number of entries Schneider agreed were “suspicious.” Five names were added within five minutes, all having addresses on the same block, and no birthdays.

“If I knew my neighbor’s name, address and date of birth, and I elected to sign that person up, would anything that the committee had done, in terms of security, catch that or prevent me from doing that?” JCBE attorney Tyson Gorman asked Schneider.

“I don’t see how. I don’t know,” Schneider responded.

Schneider said each day he would download the list of signers in a spreadsheet and send it to Camoriano and her daughters, who he said would “evaluate the details of each signature.” 

In deposition, Camoriano told attorneys she used a Republican Party database of voters to “verify a person” or “fill in a blank when she had trouble with a certain part of it.”

Camoriano said the database allowed her to search people by name, birthday or address, and that she used it to correct misspellings in addresses, or sometimes fill in missing birthdays.

“I didn’t invent people. I didn’t create people. But I could use that to help me match to people that were already signed on the petition,” she said.

Camoriano said she did not always reach out individually to contact people to let them know she was changing the record. However she did send out “at least two” mass emails alerting signers data that was missing.

Lawyers for the JCTA also allege that Camoriano intentionally made it difficult for the Jefferson County Clerk’s office to comb through and verify the signatures by providing paper copies of the signatures, and refusing to provide searchable electronic records.

In verifying records, the clerk’s office accepted thousands of duplicate signatures. Jefferson County Elections Center Co-Director Maryellen Allen said employees could only catch duplicates if they were on the same page of the paper copies they were provided.

Emails show Frank Friday, the government affairs executive at the Jefferson County Clerk’s office, asked Camoriano for the electronic records, but she never provided them.

“We didn’t have it in one nice clean document to give to him,” Camoriano said, adding that she “was afraid that if we submitted anything, in addition to what we already submitted, that that would create an opportunity for a challenge,” she said,  “that maybe we added things or changed things or something, and I didn’t want to — I didn’t want to introduce anything new that could create a challenge to the petition.”

Camoriano said Friday told her he understood. According to their depositions, Friday and Camoriano live in the same neighborhood, and Friday said the two see each other regularly at Republican political functions.

Schneider said he had the original electronic records on his computer, but never knew about Friday’s request.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.