Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams managed one of the first primaries during the COVID pandemic, cut bipartisan ballot access deals with the state’s Democratic governor, and presided over a surge in GOP registrations. He’s got two challengers in the May 16 Republican primary anyway — one supported by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, both suggesting that Kentucky’s elections can be rigged on the order of George Soros. And candidates like that have had some appeal in similar races.
“I’ve never polled this race,” Adams said in an interview. “I probably should have… the people who hate my guts are really motivated.” He talked with Americana about his record and his “kook” critics, and this is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Americana: Your campaign has said that electing you would mean “closing the door on the clown show.” Can you unpack that a little? How would you close down the clown show?
Michael Adams: It’s not just me and my opponents on the ballot. Misinformation is on the ballot — whether we're going to be a fact- and rationality-based government, when it comes to elections, or whether we're gonna let conspiracy theorists run the show. It's important that we have free and fair elections in a legitimate system. It's also important for the image of our state and for our business environment that we're not seen as a bunch of nut jobs, putting some kook into this very critical office.
Americana: How do you campaign against them? Do they confront you at events? I know that they were unhappy that they didn’t get into a TV debate.
Michael Adams: I don't really interact with them at Republican events. I just go up and make my case. I've talked about how I implemented photo ID to vote, how I cleaned up the voter rolls, how I transitioned the state to paper ballots so we can audit. I've banned ballot harvesting, by working with the legislature to pass a law. I've got a positive record of basically a conservative wish list, all the things that we on our side of the aisle wanted. So I don't interact with those guys. I do take shots on social media, but I'm not gonna get into a mud-wrestling match.
Americana: One claim they’ve made is that there are still more registered voters than county residents in most of Kentucky, and the number keeps going up.
Michael Adams: It's just made up. They never offer a basis for it other than their own math. We’ve put out a map from our office showing that 82 of our 120 counties actually have fewer voters on the rolls than they did before. You're talking about 320,000 voters in a state with 3.5 million registered voters. That's a huge number. It's taken three years of painstaking work to do that. But my opponents, when they say this stuff, the number changes, the number of counties changes, the number of registration changes, and it's just wrong.
Americana: You’ve kept Kentucky in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) as some red states got out of it, over this worry that it’s funded by George Soros (it isn't). Why should a state stay in it?
Michael Adams: I can tell you how it's been beneficial to us. Number one, we had to use it because the rolls were so dirty that before I took office, a federal judge in Frankfort ordered my predecessor to join ERIC. Since then, we’ve used it very successfully. We had a month where we took 10,000 dead voters off the rolls. None of them lived in Kentucky. They were all people that had lived in Kentucky previously, and then relocated, largely, to Florida. We never would have found that without ERIC. The state that quits it loses the benefit of being able to use that information efficiently.
Americana: Dozens of election workers and clerks have quit since 2020 after harassment from people who think that race was stolen. If you win again, what can you do to reverse that trend?
Michael Adams: I'll be honest, my power is limited. What I have done is trying to get their back. I've gone out of my way, on television, at events, and everywhere else explaining why the things that these folks are saying are false. We have an FAQ, an election rumor control page on our website. We're very proactive in confronting these things. And every time we debunk one of these conspiracy theories, that disappears, and then some new variant pops up six months later, just like COVID.
In 2020, they were saying, oh, we're going to have all this mass fraud because you're allowing people to not vote in person and mail in a vote. And then Donald Trump had the biggest victory he'd ever had in Kentucky, and Republicans won everything. We debunked the notion that we were gonna have all this mass fraud and Democrats were going to cheat. Things calmed down for a while, then in 2022, we had fringe candidates who lost by large margins, then sued us and demanded that there be recounts. Every time we debunk one of these theories, they don't accept any shame or responsibility. They just disappear into their burrows, and then they come back out with a new theory, like nothing ever happened.