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Kenton Clerk Pushes Back on Possible Costs of Early Voting in Kentucky

How to give more leeway to Kentucky voters who want to cast ballots before Election Day was considered by some state lawmakers today during committee testimony from the Kentucky County Clerks Association.

Although Kentucky voters can cast absentee ballots in-person or by mail during set periods before an election with a valid excuse, Rep. Jerry Miller (R-Louisville) told the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government that many hospital and air transport workers in his area have difficulty voting because of their changeable work schedules.

“Inside the two-week period for requesting an absentee (ballot) they learn they’re going to be in Shanghai or Anchorage, Alaska on Election Day, and at that point it’s just too late for them to vote,” Miller said. He asked Kentucky County Clerks Association (KCCA) President and Kenton County Clerk Gabrielle Summe if consideration has been given to expanding absentee voting so those workers have more options.

As a county clerk in Northern Kentucky - which is home to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport - Summe said she understands the challenge of meeting the voting needs of airport workers. But she cautioned that providing options may come with added costs for counties, asking lawmakers to consider how sustainable some changes may be.

Early voting, specifically, raises certain questions, Summe told the committee.

“My county is huge, so even if I had three voting centers in the center of my state, how would I fund that? Where would I have them? How would I pay (election workers)?” she asked.

No broad support for early voting was voiced by the committee although Rep. Steve Riggs (D-Louisville) mentioned early voting as a possibility. Riggs said the state’s two-step mail-in absentee ballot process—which requires a voter to turn in an absentee ballot application before receiving a mail-in ballot—is “cumbersome.”

“The way we do it now is more than 100 years old with very few changes,” Riggs said. “It keeps people from voting because it’s not as convenient as it needs to be. I’m not sure we need that in a democracy.”

Summe said some changes may be necessary, but asked that lawmakers consider that early voting in addition to voting on Election Day would be “expensive.” And those costs, she said, will draw money away from counties.

“So you have to really, I think, have a conversation, which I would love to have,” said Summe.

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Dan Seum (R-Fairdale) told Summe he is concerned about a lack of poll workers in the state. He asked about worker pay, which Summe said is set by each county. In her county, she said poll workers are paid $20 per two-hour training class and $150 for a 12-hour Election Day shift.

Seum said the dearth of workers poses some real problems for election operations.

“The danger now I think … if we’re getting a shortage of poll workers, now we’re going to think about combining precincts, which then, now you’ve got travel time, the poll is now farther away from someone. So that’s a danger,” he said.

But Summe said that “danger” can also be an opportunity. Having more flexibility, she said, can benefit voters.

On the issue of precincts, Interim Joint Committee on Local Government Co-Chair Rep. Rob Rothenburger (R-Shelbyville) asked if modern voting machines could eliminate the need for more precincts by accommodating more voters per precinct without lengthening voting lines. Summe said that is a possibility.

“The precincts themselves – the new equipment does alleviate a lot of those particular timing issues and should allow for a precinct to be bigger, but the statutes could be a little clearer on how that would work,” she said.

KCCA was one of many local government associations sharing its legislative priorities for the 2019 Regular Session, which starts in January. Some other associations that came before the panel to share their session goals included the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association and the Kentucky County Judge-Executive Association.

From the Legislative Research Commission

Photo: Rep. Rob Rothenburger at the committee hearing (LRC)