An ethics panel issued an advisory opinion saying that Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes can’t run for statewide office and serve as the chair of the bipartisan board that oversees elections.
The opinion comes as Grimes, a Democrat, is mulling a possible run for governor or attorney general next year and allegations from elections staff that she improperly accessed voter registration data and addresses of the state's 15,000 poll workers.
On Tuesday, Grimes issued a statement saying that the opinion from the Executive Branch Ethics Commission is "completely and transparently politically motivated."
"I will take this opinion as just that — the opinion of a board comprised entirely of Republicans hand-selected by Gov. Bevin," Grimes wrote. "If they or anybody else try to keep me from performing my job as Secretary of State or Chair of the State Board of Elections, I will take this matter to a judge."
In 2010, the ethics commission issued an opinion stating that Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson could chair the elections board while running for U.S. Senate.
But in the opinion issued on Monday, the commission reversed, saying that Grimes' access to the voter registration system gives her access to information not available to her opponents.
The opinion is partly in reaction to a resolution passed by the elections board last month that "reaffirmed" Grimes' role overseeing this year's elections and said Grimes' staff would have access to the VRS "up to, on, and after each election and throughout the regular course of business, to coordinate election inquiries and field complaints."
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear are the only people to have launched bids for next year’s gubernatorial race.
Grimes has hinted several times that she might run for statewide office, but says if she runs she would wait to announce until after this year’s elections.
Last month, the executive director of the State Board of Elections, Jared Dearing, accused Grimes of using voter registration data to screen job applicants for party affiliation and yelling at employees who raised ethical concerns.
Dearing also said that Grimes had chipped away at checks and balances that insulate poll workers from politics by improperly acquiring the names and addresses of 15,000 poll workers across the state to send them thank you notes ahead of this year’s elections.
During an elections board meeting on Tuesday, Dearing urged the board to limit Grimes’s authority over the elections administration.
"Please remove the management of the day-to-day actions of our board from the secretary," said Dearing. "That has never been codified in law, it has never been done prior to this administration. We are no longer independent."
Last week, the Kentucky Personnel Board voted to investigate Grimes use of the voter registration database. Grimes argues that the investigation is politically motivated because five of the board’s seven members were appointed by Bevin.