State workers cost taxpayers $100,000 in false election leave claims

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - State workers cost taxpayers more than $100,000 by falsely claiming paid time off for election purposes, said Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon.

An audit found as many as 1,329 public employees took four hours of paid election leave during the 2015 general and 2016 primary elections, but were not entitled to it.

"Our report and the resulting findings regarding use of election leave should be troubling not only to taxpayers, but to those who have fought for the right to allow all of us the freedom to choose our leaders," Harmon said.

According to the 16-page report, 1,176 state employees took the leave during one or both election days, but didn't vote. There were 98 instances where a worker was already on extended leave, but still claimed the four hours of pay.

Another six workers claimed election leave on more than one day, per election. Three claimed more than the four hours allowed. Three individuals that claimed to also work at their normal state employment on the same day the election officer leave and voting leave was claimed.

Auditors also looked at state workers who serve as precinct officers who claimed voting leave. A total 57 instances related to 36 individuals were found. These instances related to 206 hours of election officer leave, and 228 hours of voting leave.

No instances were found where the combined hours claimed for voting and working polls during the election exceeded the individual's total hours of work for the day.

While the 2016 General Election day was a state paid state holiday, eight individuals claimed voting leave, and eight other individuals claimed leave to work polls during this election. In total, 31.5 hours were related to voting leave, and 33 hours were related to election officer leave.

Harmon said the findings are being provided to the Personnel Cabinet to instruct state agencies on the appropriate follow-up actions to take.

"The preliminary information summarized in our report will be forwarded to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and to the Personnel Cabinet for further investigation and possible disciplinary action," Harmon said.

Personnel Secretary Thomas Stephens said his office is reviewing recommendations and will respond within 60 days.

Harmon's report also uncovered discrepancies with Kentucky's Voter Registration System.

One state employee appeared in a county election precinct book twice in the same election, but did not receive credit for casting a ballot.

Also, social security numbers in the registration system are not being validated or used consistently in the registration process.

The report states two state employees were registered to vote in two different counties, one in both Harlan and Fayette, and the other on election register books for both Morgan and Fayette during the 2015 General Election.

The report went on to identified numerous instances in which the voting registration and history records in the registration system were not accurate or produced inaccurate reporting.

Auditors said the registration system did not reflect voting history credit for 165 employees who voted in the 2015 general election and 291 employees who voted in the 2016 primary election. These discrepancies identify 453 unique employees who voted in one or both elections but did not receive voting history credit in the system. Auditors confirmed votes cast by reviewing voter signatures on precinct rosters, supplemental precinct rosters, absentee voting logs, or the sheriff's post-election report.

They determined this increases the risk of improper purging of a registration due to inactivity. It is also one of the causes of the inability to match voting history records to the election results published by the State Board of Elections. If the system is not consistently capturing all voting for each election, it is not possible to completely reconcile the election results to the voter history, even if historical perspective reports are available.

The voting history information file provided from Voter Registration System reflected the data in the system as of the date the file was created. According to Kentucky State Board of Elections officials, reporting functionality will not allow historical perspective reports to be created.

That means the Voter Registration System does not have ability to generate a detailed report for an election indicating the actual individuals registered within each county and precinct, and whether these individuals cast a ballot. Lack of this reporting function can interfere with validating the completeness and accuracy of voter history records.

The report said without historical reports for elections, there is no way to compare the number of votes cast with the number of registered voters at the time of the election or the actual voter history counts.

This comparison may be useful to identify potential voter fraud or to confirm voter turnout.

In addition, because of the 22-month retention period for local voting records, Voter Registration System records are the only long-term voter histories available. Failure to report historical point-in-time information about the registration in the system, along with inaccuracies in scanning of registers for each election, compounds the problem of inaccuracies.

"It is essential to keep our election registration system in Kentucky accurate and avoid any issues which could give the appearance of improprieties with voting records," Harmon said. "I encourage the State Board of Elections, Secretary of State, and others who oversee our election rolls to review this finding carefully, and to take the actions necessary to eliminate errors our auditors uncovered."

A response from Mary Sue Helm, who was interim executive director of the State Board of Elections, stated, "Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the state's chief election officer, is staunch in her commitment to administering the elections in a manner which is efficient, effective, secure and inspires the confidence of voters in the process.

She continued, "Some of your recommendations include issues Secretary Grimes has previously raised, and the state Board of Elections is working to remedy, including allowing the Voter Registration System to present historical snapshots of the data."

Helm said other findings deal with inaccuracies which are inherent in any data system reliant on mostly handwritten records. The online voter registration system instituted last year is reducing those errors and already leading to more accurate records.

She added, "Secretary Grimes and the state Board of Elections share your view that Kentucky citizens deserve a government that is accountable and serves their interests. This agency will undertake a careful review of your recommendations and looks forward to responding in more details." 

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