The top election official in Kentucky, who has also been Vice President Mike Pence’s election attorney for the past three years, said Friday that it is not possible to pull off the kind of widespread fraud that President Trump repeatedly says — without evidence — is a problem.
“When I ran for this office last year, I cited 22 specific cases of recent election fraud convictions,” said Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican. “It does happen, but it doesn’t happen on a widespread basis when it does happen. It typically happens in a small town.”
“But you’re not going to see widespread fraud in a presidential or a Senate or a governor’s race. It’s just not feasible. And it hasn’t been [feasible] in 70 or 80 years,” Adams said in an interview on “The Long Game,” a Yahoo News podcast.
Adams is a Harvard Law graduate who was a senior lawyer at the Justice Department in the George W. Bush administration. He built a private practice over the past 15 years advising major Republican clients on how to navigate the thicket of election laws, and worked to help Republicans win elections across the country. He was hired by the Republican Governors Association in 2007 as its general counsel, and over the next decade advised “candidates, PACs, issue groups, donors and political consultants, in connection with federal, state and local elections,” according to his law firm website.
In 2017, Pence’s PAC, the Great America Committee, hired him for legal and strategic advice regarding compliance with election law. The last payment to Adams’s law firm, Chalmers & Adams, was on June 24.
Adams was elected last fall to Kentucky’s top election post after running a traditionally conservative campaign that promised to crack down on fraud and implement a voter ID law, which has been criticized by experts as a solution in search of a problem. Even Adams’s description of what kind of fraud occurs most frequently — by insiders at the local level — supports the criticism of voter ID laws, since voter ID is meant to stop voter impersonation, which happens infrequently.
Adams has pushed for Republicans to vote by mail and has sought to debunk notions that doing so will lead to fraud. He told National Public Radio in May that he had his “head taken off” by some Republicans for sending a postcard to every registered voter telling them how to obtain a mail ballot for Kentucky’s June 23 primary.
He also said in that interview that it was “absurd” to suggest that the election would be stolen from Trump through voting by mail.
In his interview with Yahoo News, Adams detailed the practices that county election officials use to ensure that ballots are not tampered with, and refuted the notion, floated by Trump and Attorney General William Barr, that a foreign government could plant false ballots into the middle of an election.
Kentucky is one of 42 states, along with the District of Columbia, that tracks its mail ballots, according to data compiled by the Voting Rights Lab, an advocacy group that analyzes voting laws. Like many states, Kentucky uses a bar code that is generated once a voter applies for and requests a mail ballot.
“You can track your ballot the same way you track a UPS package or something. That transparency gives us in the office the ability to track the ballot,” Adams said.
Election officials can track the mail ballot from the moment it leaves their office to when the voter receives it, to when it arrives back at their office, he said. Voters also can track the progress of the ballot. Adams said he is working on technology to allow tracking of the ballot’s location in real time.
“I don’t think it would be feasible for some foreign country to replicate all those things. They would have to have the bar code, and they would have to have the signature of the voter in two locations that we then compare against the driver’s license database that we have access to,” he said. “We use very specific types of papers — certain weights, certain colors. It’s very easy for the computers to recognize a fraudulent document.”
Adams said his support for voter ID hasn’t changed, but he has also lifted the ID requirement for the fall if voters can’t get ID because of COVID-19.
He also stressed that “voter suppression is not a myth.” But Adams said that while election fraud and voter suppression are real, they are not a “daily occurrence” or “widespread conspiracies.”
Adams didn’t say whether his office is taking any action to track whether Postal Service delivery is slowing in Kentucky, but he did say that mail delivery has historically been imperfect.
“I’m not going to bash the Postal Service, but I’ll be frank. Even before the pandemic, they had a record of not delivering all the election mail. Every human commits error, every government agency commits error. It’s built in. And the question is, how many ballots are going to get lost?” Adams asked. “There’s not going to be widespread stealing or loss of ballots, but you’ve always got the risk that a ballot, like any other piece of mail, won’t arrive in time.”
“And so that’s why, even though I want and got expanded absentee for those voters who need it to vote safely, I’m trying also to scale back the demand on absentee ballots and give people other options to vote safely — just because I don’t want to put all our eggs in that basket of the mail system,” he said.
Adams said he is expanding the use of drop boxes in the state and that Republican voters have been very receptive about them.
“I took a lot of heat within the GOP for having expanded absentee voting, and I thought it would be a bridge too far to have bins where people could just drop these things off on street corners, but I was wrong,” Adams said. “It turns out that the Republicans like these better than the Democrats do because the Republicans have less confidence in the postal system and they’re more likely to want to drop that and see it go into the bin.”
Adams said one of his concerns for the fall election has to do with a shortage of election workers.
“I am concerned about having enough in-person locations and enough poll workers to handle the demand of in-person voting. I’m confident that we’ll be fine, but this is not just an issue in Kentucky. I testified in the legislature last year before the pandemic that we have a poll worker crisis in our state. We’ve got 15,000 poll workers. We need to run an election in Kentucky, and, disproportionately, [poll workers] are in their 70s and 80s,” he said. “And my generation, Gen X, hasn’t stepped up to replace our aging workers. That’s not a problem just for today. That’s a problem going forward for this decade. And those are perpetual problems that we’re having to address here and in other states.”
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