Bipartisan Agreement Shifts Kentucky Largely to Vote-by-Mail for June 23 Primary

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Kentucky’s Governor and Secretary of State have reached a bipartisan agreement that shifts the Bluegrass State largely to vote-by-mail for the upcoming June 23 primary. The Lousiville Courier-Journal has more:

Kentucky is allowing all registered voters to mail in their ballots for the state’s rescheduled primary election June 23 — a major bipartisan agreement designed to avoid in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear signed the executive order Friday after reaching an agreement with Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams. It comes weeks after a messy fight in Wisconsin that forced voters to go to the polls, leading to at least 19 of them testing positive for COVID-19.

Beshear and Adams have been in talks for weeks about the best way for Kentuckians to exercise their right to vote amid the outbreak.

“While there will be significant education and work required, we are committed to making sure this election will be held in a safe manner while we are in this worldwide health pandemic,” Beshear said in a statement.

Unlike in other states that have implemented mail-in voting, which mails ballots to voters without request, Kentucky’s plan expands absentee voting and requires voters to request a ballot.

A key component of the plan is lowered barriers and requirements for absentee ballots – which the new SoS opposed when he campaigned for the post but now recognizes is necessary in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic :

Beshear’s order allows Kentuckians to seek an absentee ballot without a notarized signature.

The State Board of Elections will now create an online portal for voters to request ballots, according to the governor’s office. It also will send out postcards to each registered voter encouraging them to participate.

Adams opposed mail-in voting when he ran for secretary of state in 2019, but he told The Courier Journal that the contagion has forced him and others to see things differently.

“Voters across the political spectrum will be pleased with this plan to protect both democracy and public health,” Adams said in a statement on Friday.

Election officials will also prepare to assist voters to need to cast ballots in person – and protect all involved when they do:

Beshear’s order also allows for in-person absentee voting to begin June 8 and permits county clerks to prioritize those voters by appointment.

The governor’s office says personal protective equipment will be provided to county clerks and poll workers, and it will also allow them to use drive-thru voting to prevent unnecessary contact with voters.

The bipartisan agreement is a welcome development, both in light of partisan fights elsewhere and the recent disagreement over a new state voter ID law:

The bipartisan cooperation in Kentucky sharply contrasts with the April 7 election in Wisconsin, where a bitter partisan fight forced voters to stand shoulder to shoulder in long lines at polling places.

Wisconsin’s Democratic governor called for a vote-by-mail system and tried to postpone the election. But the Republican-controlled legislature and conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked those efforts.

During Beshear’s annual briefing Friday, Adams decried the political battles over elections that have taken place in states such as Wisconsin and Ohio, which he called “debacles.”

“The biggest threat to our elections today is not foreign, it’s domestic,” Adams said. “It’s not Russia. It’s the sort of partisanship and brinkmanship that you’ve (had) in some other states.”

Beshear and Adams, weeks ago, had agreed publicly to postpone Kentucky’s May primary election, moving it to June.

University of Kentucky law professor Josh Douglas, who has called for expanded voting during the crisis, praised the governor and secretary of state for their cooperation.

“It’s a model for how we should proceed during these times,” Douglas said…

Beshear and Adams had recently quibbled over several other election-related matters. In March, the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed legislation championed by Adams that would have required Kentuckians to have a photo identification to vote.

Beshear vetoed the legislation, saying it would “create an obstacle to the ability of Kentuckians to exercise their right to vote” — especially in the middle of a pandemic, when many offices that provide identification are not open to the public.

The state legislature ultimately overrode Beshear’s veto. However, the legislation doesn’t take effect until the general election in November.

A former SoS and respected voice on election policy saluted the agreement – though he notes it’s too soon to expect the agreement to hold through the general election in November:

The partnership also earned the admiration of the commonwealth’s former chief elections official.

Trey Grayson, who served as Kentucky’s secretary of state from 2004 to 2011, said “there’s just a better way” to conduct an election than what happened in Wisconsin and praised Beshear, Adams and the State Board of Elections for the bipartisan effort.

“Given where we are in this pandemic, and with a primary election about two months from now, the reality is that we cannot have a normal traditional Election Day in June in Kentucky,” Grayson, a Republican, said.

As for the possibility of mail-in voting for the general election in November, Grayson said it is too early to say.

First, the governor can only issue such an executive order to a change in voting methods during a state of emergency. It is unclear whether Kentucky still will be under that situation in half a year.

Additionally, much will depend on how smoothly the mail-in voting process goes during the June primary, according to Grayson.

“We’ve never experienced this in Kentucky,” Grayson said. “So I think going forward, if voters really like it, they might ask their legislators to broaden it. 

“But if county clerks struggle with implementation and Election Day isn’t as smooth, then the voters and election administrations might not have a great experience and tell their legislators they don’t want to do it again.”

It’s encouraging to see bipartisanship on election changes given the need to protect voters and election workers alike during the coronavirus crisis. Kudos to Governor Beshear and SoS Adams for working together to make this happen. Now, as it always does, the focus shifts to the Commonwealth’s local election officials who will be tasked with making it all happen. Stay tuned …

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