According to Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, Kentucky’s unprecedented 2020 election cycle resulted in necessary changes.
However, during a July 14 Floyd County Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Adams told local business leaders that many of those changes have now been made permanent as part of a bipartisan effort that resulted in the state’s first overhaul to its voting laws since 1891.
Adams said the effort to hold last year’s election in the midst of a pandemic presented challenges, but challenges to which the state was ready to rise.
“I think Kentucky had a uniquely successful election … we actually had a more successful election than we normally have in Kentucky, even in non-COVID years,” he said.
That the elections resulted in no spikes in COVID-19 cases, he said, was amazing.
“It’s pretty amazing that we had spikes coming out of Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas last year, but not our election despite millions of people voting in person,” he said.
Referencing controversies underway nationwide over voting rights and methods, Adams said Kentucky has been able to not only address the challenges, but do so in a way that made 2020’s election a successful and secure one.
“I took a lot of heat in Frankfort for making it easier to vote from a lot of folks who thought that was going to mean we had more vote fraud,” he said. “But actually we had a more secure election, even with expanded access to the ballot than we had in prior election under the prior rules we had.
“It was the first election in which 2 million Kentuckians voted,” he said.
That the effort was undertaken by both Republicans and Democrats, Adams said, is important.
“We’ve been fair, we’ve been bipartisan,” he said, adding that helping to ensure that bipartisan oversight is the state Board of Elections, made up of equal numbers of both Republicans and Democrats, as well as local boards of election and even precinct leadership, which are constituted similarly.
Adams said Kentucky’s is a national success story for other states to follow and led to the legislature making some of the changes permanent in the 2021 session.
“Because the feedback was so positive, I thought it was appropriate to ask the legislature to take some of these things we did and make them permanent,” he said. “Our election code was long overdue for a modernization or an upgrade.”
Kentucky’s election code had not been updated in a significant fashion since 1891, and one of the changes which occurred at that time was the elimination of multi-day voting.
Adams said that, since that time, it’s been inertia or an acceptance of things as they are that has prevented multiple-day voting. The concerns over multiple-day voting, he said, turned out to be unfounded, as law enforcement and others have told him it’s actually been easier to enforce voting laws.
“It’s hard to pull that kind of stuff off over a multiple day election,” he said. “You might be able to get away with it on one day and not get caught, but over a period of several days … you increase your chances of being discovered.”
The bipartisan measure approved provides for three days prior to the election during which anyone can vote without having to provide a reason. However, mail-in voting was not expanded.
Even with the possibility of mail-in voting, Adams said, most people still chose in-person. For that reason, he said, he saw it as more important and cost-effective to continue multiple-day voting as opposed to expanding mail-in voting.
“It’s just part of our culture,” he said.
Changing the laws and processes was important, Adams said.
In 2018, Adams said, 7.5 percent of the absentee ballots sent in Kentucky were discarded with no notice to the voter.
“I would be outraged if my vote were just thrown out,” he said. “The law was if they get your ballot back and your signature on your envelope doesn’t match the signature on your voter registration card, they throw your ballot out. That was the law, and it was a dumb law.”
Now, if a ballot comes in and something doesn’t match, the county clerk’s office contacts the voter and tries to give them a chance to correct.
“These things were all things we did on a pilot basis last year and proved really successful and were voted on by the legislature,” he said. “These provisions passed.”
Adams said the measures passed by a wide margin, which is something that is rare with such a hot-button issue these days.
“I want everyone to feel like their vote matters,” Adams said.
Adams said he believes it’s appropriate to require photo ID to vote but that work was done to allow for free photo IDs to prevent anyone from being disenfranchised.
He also said he is working to get the state’s voter rolls up-to-date and accurate, which has resulted in his office eliminating more voters than it added some months.
Adams said the legislature also voted to do away from electronic machines that do not have a paper trail, and approved a recount process approved by both the majority and minority leaders in the House.
“I think the voters will be happier with that, knowing there’s a paper trail,” he said.