In 2020, Secretary Adams achieved legislative passage of his signature issue from 2019, Photo ID to Vote. This year, building on the successes of last year's other improvements to our election system, the General Assembly passed and the Governor signed House Bill 574, the most significant reform of Kentucky's election system since 1891.
Sponsored by Representative Jennifer Henson Decker and co-sponsored by Representatives James Tipton and Josh Branscum, the measure made permanent several reforms Secretary Adams implemented administratively in 2020 on a temporary basis, and it added several other items he requested.
Summary of House Bill 574's Provisions
Expanded in-person voting
Absentee voting is a right established in the Kentucky Constitution, but in-person voting is the gold standard. The new law offers 3 days of early in-person voting, including a Saturday, making it easier for working people to vote.
From 1891 through 2019, Kentucky offered its citizens only one day to go vote. It wasn't always this way. Our first 11 U.S. Presidents were elected under a system of early voting, a process that brought us Washington, Jefferson, Madison – not too shabby.
In 2020, we saw a significant uptick in turnout the last few days before Election Day. A three-day voting period actually mirrors the voting period referenced in Kentucky's first two constitutions.
Voter services portal
The portal first verifies the identity of absentee ballot applicants, then allows them to obtain a ballot and to track it. Now you can be confident your absentee ballot has been issued, then has been received and counted. Moreover, now the Secretary of State and his partners in law enforcement can monitor the absentee voting process for irregularities. It is breathtaking that previously absentee voting could not be supervised by state election officials, but now the portal enables statewide tracking of absentee ballots.
In-person voting is the gold standard – the only voting method that can be directly supervised by election officials – but for those who merit an exception based on their circumstances, the portal makes getting and tracking your ballot as easy as possible. This new level of transparency deters irregularities and enhances public confidence.
Signature cure process
In previous elections, many absentee ballots were rejected – simply thrown in the garbage, without notice or due process for voters – because their signatures on their absentee ballot envelopes did not match their voter-card signatures from years before. Our cure process solved this problem, cutting in half the fail rate of absentee ballots. Absentee voters whose signatures have changed over time have a chance to prove identity and have their ballots counted.
Counties have the option to create county-wide vote centers where any voter in the county may vote, regardless of precinct. In 2020, this method shortened lines, saved tax dollars, and enfranchised voters.
Enhanced ability to remove nonresidents from voter rolls
Kentucky's voter rolls must be accurate. In about half of the months of Secretary Adams' term thus far, more dead voters have been removed from our rolls than live voters added. A larger challenge is removing nonresidents: people who are still alive, used to live here, moved elsewhere and re-registered but still are on our rolls, and can vote here, while they're voting in some other state.
House Bill 574 granted Secretary Adams' request that Kentucky be able to immediately remove nonresident voters as they are identified by other states as having moved there and re-registered; previously, the Commonwealth had to wait for two federal election cycles to pass first before it could do so, unless written consent was obtained from each voter.
Ban on ballot harvesting
Borrowing Arizona's law – which just was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court – House Bill 574 included a ban on ballot harvesting. Essentially, ballot harvesting is third parties going door-to-door to collect absentee ballots, a pernicious practice that contributes to duress, intimidation, and outright fraud in elections.
The danger of ballot harvesting is not speculative, nor foreign to Kentucky. In 2014, the former mayor of Martin, Kentucky was sent to federal prison for election-related offenses. Evidence showed that "members of the conspiracy directed residents of public housing to vote by absentee ballot under the supervision of Thomasine Robinson or another member of the conspiracy. . . . Voters who did not comply faced eviction or the loss of priority for public housing."
Transition away from electronic voting machines and toward universal paper ballots
One issue that Democrats, Republicans, and other voters tend to agree on: they want to vote on a piece of paper rather than an electronic machine, and to know there is a paper trail should concerns arise about fraud or error.
Of course, hand-counting ballots would be extraordinarily time-consuming – it would take weeks, not hours, to hand-count statewide election results – so the ideal process is usage of optical scan machines that simply plug into the wall (not the cloud) and quickly count paper ballots.
HB 574 transitions Kentucky toward a uniform standard of technology and reliability. Paper ballots counted electronically offer the speed of a quick count, and the security of a paper trail.
Allow registered Independents to serve as poll workers
Previously, a poll worker had to be a registered Democrat or Republican. In addition to easing discrimination, this reform expands the number of eligible poll workers, who are sorely needed to ensure an adequate number of voting locations.
These reforms improve both voter access and election integrity. Consistent with Secretary Adams' promise, Kentucky has made it easier to vote and harder to cheat.