MURRAY — When Steve Knipper ran for Kentucky secretary of state in 2015, one of the biggest portions of his platform was, in his words, “cleaning up the voter rolls” in the commonwealth.
Knipper, a Republican from Independence in the Cincinnati, Ohio suburbs of the commonwealth, lost that race by less than three percentage points to Democratic Party incumbent Alison Lundergan Grimes. Now, four years later, he is seeking the secretary of state’s office again as Grimes is finishing her second and, under Kentucky law, final term in that office.
Once again, issues with Kentucky voter rolls is his No. 1 campaign topic.
“Nobody was talking about it then. Nobody really knew about it back then. The only reason I knew was because I had data,” Knipper said as he continued a lengthy swing through western Kentucky Friday. He has been in that part of the commonwealth most of this week. “I wanted to see exactly where counties stood because I was trying to determine what areas I needed to visit for the campaign, and I started noticing the numbers. In several counties, there were more registered voters than there were citizens, and I was like, ‘Well how can that be?’
“So I called her on it during a debate we had on KET, and she denied it. She said, ‘We have the cleanest voter rolls in the nation.’”
Back then, Knipper said there were 18 Kentucky counties with this problem. Now, he said that number has expanded to 48.
That is why he said he wants to use his background in computer technology to combat the problem as secretary of state.
“I’ve been in computer technology for 15 years and one of the places I worked was Catholic Health Initiatives, which runs Mercy Hospital in Cincinnati, and I did all of their IT projects,” he said. “What you have to understand is that the hospital industry is a little different from most. They want your data just to hold it. If a hospital doesn’t have that data, it’s dead; they’re done. I’d argue with hospital administrators who didn’t want to buy storage space for their backup records, and I’d tell them, ‘Look, you have got to do that. That is No. 1!’ Why? The very first time they get hacked or compromised, you could say, ‘Ah well, let them keep it. It’s no big deal,’ and we’d go back online and it was business as usual.
“That’s the same reason I’m in favor of the paper ballot. It’s a backup source that you can’t argue with.”
Knipper said he spent some time in 2015 with then-Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who is now that state’s lieutenant governor. In 2015, Husted was also concerned with voter-roll cleanup and was in the process of developing ways to fight the problem.
Knipper said he and members of his campaign team, also strong in IT, helped add components to the plan.
“He said, ‘You’re welcome to use this plan,’ to which I thanked him, but then I started looking at it and I said, ‘Jon, we could probably speed this up,’ so his team and my team sat down and worked on it,” Knipper said, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling that gave states the ability to purge their rolls of voters no longer living or who are ineligible to vote. He did use the process that we helped create and I told him, ‘You’re probably going to get sued,’ and he responded, ‘if you win, you probably will get sued too.’ He did get sued but then the Supreme Court acted and gave it their seal of approval.
“I remember the day that ruling came down, Jon called me and he said, ‘You just got your voter roll cleanup.’ That, to me, was all I needed to say, that I’m definitely running again and I’ve got the plan to do it. But I look back and think that it was a shame that I didn’t get a chance to use that plan here in Kentucky, because we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now.”
Knipper also said he wants to see the secretary of state’s office become more state-of-the-art.
“From a partisan standpoint, (the GOP) wants to attract younger voters. Everything anymore is done through iPhones and I think, at some point, we can get to that point, but we’re nowhere near there right now,” he said. He added that he is working on a prototype program that could enable American veterans and Americans living overseas to vote in elections electronically.
“It is insane to try to vote overseas right now because of everything that goes into it, and I’ve talked to a lot of veterans, particularly about this. They want something done. I can remember back in 2015 talking to two veterans who were really upset and they told me, ‘There is no way our votes could’ve counted in this election.’ People are saying it can never be done, but I love that. I love a good challenge.”
Knipper also said he wants to use the secretary of state’s office to enable people seeking to adopt children from foreign lands to experience an easier path. He said automation would eliminate what he calls unnecessary paperwork that causes the process to slow. He added that he would know as the father of five adopted children from China.