FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The chief elections officials from Kentucky and West Virginia warned their states' politicians Tuesday that they'll be closely watched in the upcoming election to make sure they're not trading money, favors or drugs for votes.
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said the prescription drug epidemic raises the possibility of pills being traded for ballots.
The state has a long history of election fraud, traditionally involving people paying cash for votes or doing favors such as spreading gravel on driveways. But Kentucky also has had instances of prescription drugs being swapped for votes in recent years.
The widespread abuse of painkillers has pushed up Kentucky's crime rate. More Kentuckians now die from prescription overdoses than traffic crashes. Grimes said elections officials can't ignore those statistics when it comes to the Nov. 6 election.
"In addition to putting our families at risk, the demand for prescription drugs is also putting our elections at risk," she said during a press conference at the state Capitol. "As Kentucky's secretary of state and chief election officer, I'm here to tell you that our elections are not and will not be for sale."
Allegations of pills being traded for votes came in the 2008 federal indictment of former mayoral candidate Bob Madon of Pineville, Ky., who later pleaded guilty to buying votes. The indictment charged Madon with giving voters cash and pills for their votes.
Grimes said protecting the integrity of the election process is crucial and that swapping votes for pills or dollar bills won't be tolerated.
West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said election officials in her state also will be on the lookout for criminals who would chip away at democracy by buying votes.
"Our states, West Virginia and Kentucky, do have a reputation of having some people who would be unscrupulous and want to manipulate our election process," Tennant said. "We are working to change that culture."
U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey from the eastern district of Kentucky appeared with Grimes and Tennant in Frankfort to reaffirm the federal government's resolve in prosecuting election fraud cases.
"We intend to do everything within our power to make sure that this election is a free and fair election, and that those who might seek to subvert the integrity of the election receive special attention from our office," he said.
Federal prosecutor Ken Taylor said vote buying has persisted in Kentucky despite several prison sentences being meted out over the past decade.
"When we stamp it out in one place, it comes up in another," he said. "We stamp out one form of it, and it comes up in another form somewhere else."