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Op-Ed: Kentucky Election Shows Giving Voters More Options is Positive

 

The following op-ed is written by State Rep. Rachel Roberts (D-Newport).

As we congratulate the winners of this year’s primary election and look ahead to November, there’s one group who has reason to celebrate the most: voters themselves.

Like virtually everything in our lives, COVID-19 has forced us to look for new ways to take on old tasks.  In this case, however, we’ve shown that the changes made out of necessity are truly a better way to have our voices heard at the ballot box.  Instead of once again reading day-after stories about low turnout – or horror stories like those following recent elections in Wisconsin and Georgia – we saw national headlines praising Kentucky for getting an election right during a pandemic.

Our bipartisan approach, approved jointly by a Democratic governor and Republican secretary of state, was both safe and accommodating, and the end result is that more than one million voters took part, an all-time high for a primary election.  That sounds like an overwhelming success to me, but some have already made it clear they will resist making this change permanent.

Those who want a return to the past need to answer why we should re-install roadblocks no longer needed.  If having nearly 850,000 Kentuckians voting absentee – more than 80 percent of those taking part in the primary – is not a mandate, then nothing is.

Giving voters more options to have their voice heard has several factors in its favor.  It’s quicker, for one, with the time needed to request an absentee ballot and then actually vote taking less than five minutes combined.  This method of voting is secure, as we have seen for years with the military and others who had a qualified excuse to vote this way.  Early in-person voting this primary, meanwhile, made it easier for Kentuckians to fit this civic duty in their schedule rather than narrowing it down to a 12-hour window.

Like any change, there are tradeoffs.  Election results, as we saw, take longer to certify, and this form of voting is, at least at the outset, more expensive.  We also need an education campaign to ensure thousands of otherwise eligible voters do not have their absentee ballots rejected because of such things as a misplaced signature.

Those are all challenges we can overcome, though, and with nothing more important than deciding who leads our government and appropriates our tax dollars, I believe the gains far outweigh the costs.

Another hallmark of this primary is the fact that more than 170,000 Kentuckians with a non-violent felony record were eligible to take part.  They had this opportunity thanks to Governor Andy Beshear’s executive order in December, which brought an 1891 constitutional rule into the 21st century. 

Nearly every other state has had automatic restoration of voting rights in place for years, and it’s time for Kentucky to join them permanently with a new constitutional amendment.  Those who have paid their debt to society should have the right to help determine who represents them.

If there is one thing COVID-19 has re-affirmed over the last several months, it’s that the best leaders are those who model good behavior and are willing to make changes for the greater good, especially when evidence all but demands it.

This type of leadership is what enabled us to have a successful primary, and now it’s the leadership we need to make these and other sensible election changes the law of the land.

The voters of Kentucky deserve no less.

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