Central KY Senate candidate wins Election Day legal battle over campaigning near polls

·3 min read
Andrew Cooperrider (Silas Walker/Lexington Herald-Leader)

A federal judge intervened in a fight between Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins and State Senate candidate Andrew Cooperrider over a mix-up on electioneering law on Tuesday.

The issue began and ended on Election Day with a legal victory for Cooperrider, who’s challenging incumbent Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, for the 22nd Senate District seat. U.S. Eastern District of Kentucky Judge Danny Reeves entered an order at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday stating the two parties had agreed to allow Cooperrider’s campaign to continue to advocate for the candidate up to 100 feet from polling place doors.

Cooperrider says that he and his volunteers were unfairly targeted by Blevins and poll workers for performing legal campaign activities.

Cooperrider’s campaign measured 100 feet from the entrance of 12 polling stations in the district, which includes Jessamine and Garrard counties as well as a portion of southern Fayette County, and marked them with the letter “X.” Supporters later advocated for the Senate candidate on Election Day at those spots.

100 feet from a polling place door is the closest that anyone can electioneer on behalf of a candidate.

But since many of the X-marked spots were located along sidewalks or paths that voters would take to enter the polling place, multiple voters and all three county clerks in the district called the State Board of Elections with questions or complaints, according to State Board of Elections General Counsel Taylor Brown.

Although the tactic was technically legal, Blevins said it “violated the spirit” of election law.

“Voters are complaining over and over again about being offered materials, being called to come over and talk to them before they vote, and they’ve put up signs just outside the limit,” Blevins said. “It’s in poor taste and I don’t agree with his methodology but it’s legal so not much I can do about it.”

Aside from being so close to the polling place doors, Brown said that at least one voter complained of being pestered by Cooperrider volunteers “as soon as she stepped out of her car” at the Veterans Park polling place in Lexington.

After initially receiving those complaints from Brown in the morning, Blevins spoke again with Brown and reviewed state statute, coming to the conclusion that candidates could not electioneer on the polling place property altogether. Blevins said he then called Cooperrider and told him to pull his people back from their marked spots or that he would be forced to send the sheriff out.

But the statute and case law only holds that campaigns are not allowed to electioneer “within a distance of one hundred (100) feet of any entrance to a building in which voting is conducted.”

“They were just wrong,” Cooperrider said. “(Blevins) decided that it was the property, but no it’s very specific. It’s the door.

“I really didn’t want to have to be enforcing election law today. I wanted to be 101 feet away from a poll asking people to vote for me.”

Cooperrider said that poll workers “chased off” his volunteers and from roughly 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. — when Reeves issued the restraining order against Blevins and Fayette County Sheriff Kathy Witt — they were told they couldn’t campaign on the polling place property.

The Senate challenger argues that his campaign could have lost potential votes because of the misinterpretation of election law.

Blevins said his office, along with Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts who he said shared the legal perspective of Cooperrider’s team, had already agreed with Cooperrider’s campaign to not bar them from their activity by the time of the judge’s restraining order.

Cooperrider’s campaign filed the order along with Richard Hayhoe, who owns Beans Cafe in Northern Kentucky. Like Cooperrider’s coffee shop Brewed, Beans Cafe was at the center of a legal battle regarding the place of business’ right to disregard COVID-19 restrictions during the pandemic. Attorney for the candidate is Chris Wiest, a Northern Kentucky litigator who has represented Cooperrider before and frequently brought suits on behalf of conservative causes.

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