County clerks worry homeless voter policy could lead to fraud

Published: Jul. 6, 2011 at 1:15 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 6, 2011 at 1:44 AM EDT
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COVINGTON, KY (FOX19) - Kentucky election officials say there's been an increase in the number of voter registration forms from the homeless so they felt the need to clarify a few rules. However, some local county clerks say the policy could lead to voter fraud.

Last week, State Board of Elections Executive Director Sarah Ball Johnson wrote all of the county clerks in Kentucky a memo, instructing them to approve all voter registration applications from people who are homeless -- even if clerks can't verify the addresses on the forms. The policy has been in place since 1998, but Johnson wanted to clarify it because of the number of applicants and newly elected county clerks.

Boone County Clerk Kenny Brown received Johnson's memo on June 30, and immediately sprung into action. Brown said he called Board of Election members, state representatives, and lawyers to figure out if the policy was correct.

"I try not to disenfranchise any truly homeless person," said Brown. "But the opportunity for fraud here is huge. There's got to be a way. A better way to solve this."

At issue are the applications where "homeless" or "place to place" is written in the address box on a voter registration form. Brown is concerned that, in some cases, there is no way to verify where the applicant lives.

Brown also says the problem is that voters who are homeless must be counted in the precinct of the county clerk's office. Brown added that the policy increases the potential for voters who don't live in a precinct to influence elections in that precinct, and he said that is illegal.

"This procedure has no safeguards in place to stop an election from being influenced by voters who do not live in the precinct in which they would be voting. The policy is inconsistent with KY law," said Brown in a letter to State Board of Elections Members.

Kenton County Clerk Gabrielle Summe agrees.

"I don't want {men and women who are homeless} to not have the right to vote," said Summe. "But there has to be another way to really look at this issue and determine or define what is homeless. And is there a way to keep the right to vote for them without opening the door for people to question whether somebody's voted twice or if they are who they say they are and maybe had somebody else vote for them?"

Johnson's memo did not disclose how many voter registration forms they had received from applicants who are homeless. Neither Brown or Summe had an exact number, either.

But homeless advocates in Northern Kentucky disagreed with the clerk's concerns.

David Hammers runs Fairhaven Rescue Mission in Covington. Volunteers and staff at the mission feed thousands of homeless people every month. Hammers said staff allow the homeless to put down the mission's address on his or her voter registration form; that's legal.

Hammers agreed that laws must be followed, but said that taking away someone else's right to vote isn't the answer.

"Those people still have the right and also the responsibility in our country to vote," said Hammers.

Brown said that living in one precinct and voting in another is a Class D felony. On the other hand, some local homeless advocates said the homeless are no more likely to commit voter fraud than any other person.