Legislative Update - May 19, 2020
In normal times, Kentuckians would be heading to the polls on Tuesday this week to cast their ballots in this year’s primary election.
These are not normal times, of course, and just as the coronavirus has changed virtually every aspect of our public lives, it is significantly altering the way most of us will vote. The most obvious difference is the delayed election itself, with Governor Andy Beshear and Secretary of State Michael Adams announcing earlier this spring that it was being moved to June 23rd.
As part of that safety precaution, all voters are now eligible for – and encouraged to use – absentee ballots. The goal is to avoid what we saw in Wisconsin last month, when most voters there were given no choice but to stand in line, some for hours, at a significantly reduced number of polling locations. That crowding put them at great risk of being infected with COVID-19, and recent news reports indicate dozens did indeed become sick.
The process here in Kentucky will be much safer, and all 3.4 million registered voters will be able to choose from several options to ensure their voice is heard in next month’s primary.
To make absentee voting easier, the state will mail each registered voter a postcard very soon to start the process off. The state will also use a secure online portal for voters to request an absentee ballot (hopefully around May 25th), and that request can be made as well through the county clerk’s office.
These postcards will be used to verify whether voters still live at the location where they are registered. If you have moved but not changed your registration, please do so soon, before May 26th at 4pm. You will still be able to vote if registered.
Requests for absentee ballots have to be made by June 15th, and the state will cover the cost of returning the ballot, so there will be no need to buy a stamp. Returned ballots must have a postmark no later than Election Day, but ballots meeting this criteria will be accepted until June 27th, meaning complete results will be delayed until then. The Secretary of State says results won’t be certified until June 30th at the latest.
Those voting absentee can mail in or drop off their ballots, and those wanting to vote in person can do so in the days leading up to the election or on Election Day itself. Those taking these last two options are encouraged to make an appointment with the county clerk’s office.
It is important to emphasize that most polling locations in Kentucky will be closed on June 23rd. In fact, Jefferson County, which has more than 600,000 registered voters, will only have one, which will be located at the Kentucky Exposition Center at the State Fairgrounds.
If you would like to vote but are not registered yet, there are still a few days left to fix that. The deadline is next Tuesday, May 26th. It is too late, though, if you are registered but would like to change your party affiliation for this primary. That cutoff to do that was back in December.
The voting changes I’ve described only apply to the primary election. For now, November’s election is on track to be conducted as it traditionally has been. Still, many others and I hope that the General Assembly will use this primary as a model to make voting easier in future elections.
Early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots are two simple changes that would almost certainly drive up voter turnout, which has historically been low. During the last two primaries in presidential election years, for example, only one in six voters took part.
Another key difference between next month’s primary and November’s election is that new photo ID requirements for voters won’t be in place until the fall.
This primary will be the first statewide election since Governor Beshear signed an executive order late last year making it possible for 150,000 Kentuckians with a non-violent felony record to register and vote. Kentucky was one of the last states to automatically restore felon voting rights, and my hope is that many will take advantage of this. If you think you might be among those eligible, the state has a website where you can quickly check: https://civilrightsrestoration.ky.gov/.
All Kentuckians, meanwhile, can visit GoVoteKy.com, where you can start or review your voter registration and learn more about the election process. Your county clerk’s office is also a wonderful resource if you want to know more about this primary.
If you have questions about other issues affecting Kentucky, I would like to know. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can leave me or any legislator a message, toll-free, at 1-800-372-7181.
Thanks for all you do and holler anytime.