Back in June, Kentucky earned widespread praise across the country for the way we conducted our primary election during a pandemic. Based on the plan that state election officials finalized last week, it appears we’re on track to repeat that success on November 3rd. Although there are some important differences between the two elections, the underlying goal of both – to keep voters, poll workers and ballots safe – remains the same. As such, there will still be plenty of early voting options this fall and broader eligibility for absentee ballots to address COVID-19 concerns.
The General Assembly made these election changes possible in the spring as part of a series of measures addressing the current state of emergency. Under that law, Secretary of State Michael Adams and Governor Andy Beshear are required to agree on recommendations before any statewide voting modifications can take effect. The initial result of that work led to a record number of voters during the primary election.
As with any large endeavor, though, there is always room for improvement, and the Governor and Secretary of State’s plan for November builds on the lessons learned in June.
For example, many counties, including Jefferson and Fayette, had just one polling location during the primary, making it tough for some citizens with limited transportation to vote. Thousands of absentee ballots, meanwhile, were rejected because they failed to meet every requirement. Under the revised rules, counties will now need state approval before reducing their polling locations on November 3rd. This decision will help make sure that most if not all counties have more than one location for voters on Election Day. Every county will still have to offer at least one central location that every voter in that county use. This will help those who, in past elections, were turned away because they were at the wrong precinct.
As for absentee ballots, there will not quite be the same emphasis on their use this time as there was in June, when more than 70 percent of voters opted to take this approach. Still, nothing bars voters from applying, if they are worried about their health or the health of a loved one.
One particularly positive move this election is that those using absentee ballots will have a chance to make corrections if their ballot is initially rejected. The cure process, as this is called, will help reduce the number of those ballots that are not counted for a variety of reasons. This was not a small number in June’s election, where more than 15,000 votes were thrown out in Jefferson and Fayette counties alone. Nearly 6,000 of those were because the voter had failed to sign the ballot, and thousands of others were also not counted because of procedural reasons or they arrived too late.
As we prepare for the upcoming election season, there are several key dates and websites to keep in mind. State officials made application for an absentee ballot possible at www.GoVoteKy.com. This feature will be available online until October 9th, and after that date, voters wanting an absentee ballot will have to work with their county clerks.
Be aware that a requested ballot will not arrive until at least mid-late September. Also, the portal is connected to the state’s driver's license database, which will make it easier to comply with this year’s new photo ID requirements. Voters who have not been able to get their license or other ID because state offices have been closed can sign a document explaining that issue and then vote.
The goal is to have all absentee ballots returned by November 3rd, so that county clerks will be able to count votes sooner than we saw in June, when ballots were accepted for several days after the primary and results took a week to compile. If you don’t want to mail your ballot, you can use secure drop boxes each county will have.
If you would like to vote in-person, polls will be open for anyone who is registered beginning on Oct. 13th. These locations will be open during regular business hours during the week and at least four hours on the three Saturdays before the election. This will greatly reduce the likelihood of large crowds for those who wait to vote on Election Day itself.
If you are not registered to vote but would like to be, the deadline to do that for November’s election is October 5th. You can do it online at www.govoteky.com.
Lastly, if you have a non-violent felony record that kept you from voting in the past, Governor Beshear’s executive order last December may make it possible for you to vote now. You can check your eligibility at https://secure.kentucky.gov/Corrections/VoterEligibility/search.
After November’s election, voters won’t be back at the polls until 2022. My hope is that, by then, the pandemic will be long over but that many of these voting changes will still remain. Voters should have more opportunities to have their voices heard, and this year’s election changes are showing us how that can be done.
As always, if you have questions or comments about issues affecting Kentucky, please let me know. My email email@example.com, or you can call me using the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.
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