Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

May 13, 2014

2014 PRIMARY ELECTIONEERING LAWS: Rules apply for absentee voting too

GLASGOW — With early voting underway at the Barren County Clerk’s office, candidates must be mindful of local and state laws regarding electioneering.

In-person absentee voting for the May 20 primary began Wednesday and continues through May 19. During this time, the clerk’s office in the Barren County Government Center serves as a polling place, and electioneering is prohibited within 300 feet of the main entrance of a building in which a voting machine is located. Signs with this information are posted on the ground floor of the government center.

As District 6 Barren County Magistrate Chris Steward – a Democratic candidate for Barren County judge-executive – entered Barren County Fiscal Court chambers for a special-called meeting Thursday afternoon, he paused in front of magistrates for Districts 1-3 and pulled at least one card to distribute from a stack of cards in his hip pocket. Steward’s action was witnessed by a Daily Times reporter and others in the room.

Barren County’s ordinance, which is worded almost identically to state law, defines electioneering as “the displaying of signs, the distribution of campaign literature, cards, or handbills, the soliciting of signatures to any petition or the solicitation of votes for or against any political party, candidate, or question on the ballot in any manner.”

When the Daily Times asked Steward on Friday whether the cards were campaign material, he confirmed they were. He said he had also distributed material at the past two monthly fiscal court meetings.

“I didn’t even think about it (being an active polling place),” Steward said when asked about the in-person absentee voting.

Steward said he gave one of the cards to each of the three magistrates, but he was mostly just joking with them. No one said anything about it being an issue while he was at the meeting, he said.

“It was more or less (cutting) up with John Benningfield, and Rickey (Spillman) and Carl (Dickerson), who can’t even vote for me (in the primary). Two of the three can’t even vote for me,” he said, because they are Republicans.

“I guess I’ll have to be more careful,” Steward said. “I won’t do it anymore.”

Benningfield confirmed Monday that Steward gave him a campaign card.

“The manner that he gave it to me was almost like a joke,” Benningfield said. “I didn’t take it like he was trying to get me to vote for him. ... I took it as a joke and I laughed when he gave it to me. ...

“It didn’t even dawn on me at the time that the clerk’s office was open and accepts absentee ballots.”

Steward asked about rules regarding parking inside the 300-foot limit with campaign materials on a vehicle. He parked across from the government center with his truck facing the courthouse, but he said he saw a couple of other candidates’ vehicles along that block around the time of the meeting.

“I wasn’t purposely campaigning (upstairs), but my parking my have been in violation,” Steward said.

Bud Tarry, another Democratic judge-executive candidate, was also at the fiscal court meeting and said he was parked near Subway. He has a vinyl election sign on his SUV, he said, that can’t be easily removed and replaced.

Thursday’s special-called meeting was two hours earlier than the normal fiscal court meeting time of 5 p.m., which would be after the absentee poll closes. Tarry said he was aware paper absentee voting had started.

“I did take off my badge I usually wear. I didn’t ask anyone during the meeting or anything else to vote for me,” Tarry said. “I knew you couldn’t do it on your person. I wasn’t thinking about the vehicle.”

Tarry said he has a sign up at a business office on the square, and he would check on the distance between that and the clerk’s office.

Barren County Clerk Joanne London and Amanda Sturgeon, elections coordinator in the clerk’s office, referred questions to Jeff Sharp, Barren County attorney and the attorney for the county board of elections.

London arrived at Thursday’s meeting a few moments after Steward, and Sharp was seated in his usual spot behind the bench, where his line of sight to Steward’s position would have been obscured.

“I didn’t see him giving out cards,” Sharp said.

Electioneering is considered a Class A misdemeanor in Kentucky. Violators could be fined up to $1,000 and/or up to a year in the county jail per violation.

Sharp said intent to violate the law must be proven.

“If it appears from all the evidence there wasn’t intent to break the law, they probably couldn’t be charged,” he said. Still, it would be up to law enforcement to investigate an accusation, unless a person tried to first get an indictment through a grand jury. For that, he or she would go through the commonwealth’s attorney.

Sharp said he believes electioneering rules would apply to signage on vehicles, but some common sense would be necessary in trying to enforce them – such as if the area is a main traffic corridor.

“If they just drive by, it’s probably not going to be intentional; they’re just trying to get from point A to point B,” he said.

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