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Ky. Sec. of State Talks to RCN About New Election Reforms

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael G. Adams told RCN that the recently passed HB574 - legislation relating to election reforms in the commonwealth - was designed to increase accessibility and security and exemplifies what can be accomplished through bipartisan cooperation. 

"Last year Kentucky had a uniquely safe and secure election," Adams said. "I think it was better here than what we saw in other states in terms of accused fraud, and we did it without seeing a spike in COVID cases that we unfortunately saw in other parts of the country."

Adams added that he was pleased with the high rate of voter turnout across the state, adding that Northern Kentucky was particularly impressive, especially in the midst of a pandemic. 

"Most of the changes that we saw were implemented last year, and were done so through the governor's executive orders," Adams explained. "Any extra costs to our processes were then covered by grants from the federal government. We wanted to look at what worked for voters, and what we could afford."

He said that HB574 was crafted after holding meetings with his staff to discuss which aspects of last year's election worked and what could be scrapped, then holding meetings with each county clerk across Kentucky to discuss which aspects that they thought were worth keeping. 

Adams claimed that the county clerks agreed with what he and his staff had identified as successes. Afterwards, a marathon of meetings was held with state legislators to start crafting laws that would benefit the security and accessibility of Kentucky elections, he said. 

"After meeting with legislators, we put together a bill that was almost passed unanimously," he said. "It was passed in a fair and bipartisan way that people can have confidence in." 

The bill was signed into law by Governor Andy Beshear on April 7. 

According to Adams, the bill has four main properties that will change elections held in Kentucky and is the most consequential election bill here since 1891.

The first item in the bill relates to early voting. Adams said that his office found that 70 percent of Kentucky voters participated in the election in person - 45 percent voted early and 25 percent voted on election day. His office also found that when residents voted early, it was mostly on the days immediately preceding the election. This led to the bill's early voting to take place on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday leading up to the election held on a Tuesday. 

Adams said that voters loved the opportunity to vote early, but the process was expensive - adding that last year the state was able to afford it through federal subsidies. This compromise of three early voting days increases accessibility and is affordable for the state, he argued. 

The second item in the legislations allows counties to open central voting locations that allow for better parking and increased efficiency meaning that fewer voting machines will have to be used, fewer officers will have to be present, and voting lines will be shorter. Adams added that this provision is optional, but saw that it could be very beneficial to larger metropolitan counties across Kentucky. 

Third, the bill addresses absentee voting and solidifies the absentee request portal used last year to receive an absentee ballots. 

"This portal makes getting absentee ballots easier," Adams said. "It's much quicker and lessens the strain put on our clerks' offices that was put there by the former system." 

Adams added that the absentee portal allows voters to monitor the status of their ballots, likening it to an order from Amazon. Moreover, he said that the absentee ballots were the only ballots cast outside the purview of election officials - the portal system consolidates the information and makes it trackable, making it more secure. 

Lastly, the bill addresses mail-in ballots with inconsistencies such as mismatched signatures. Previously, ballots with inconsistencies were thrown out and the voter was not notified. Under the new bill, county clerks have to call the voter and confirm that they voted and then the voter is then asked to come to the clerk's office to confirm their ballot and have it counted.

Adams said that absentee ballots are predominantly used by older residents of Kentucky whose signatures often change as they age. Moreover, he said that if the voter had not sent a ballot in, they could then follow up on a lead of actual voter fraud - increasing both accessibility and security. 

The bill also prohibits the mass-collection of ballots by third-party entities that claim they will drop them off at the appropriate destination, often referred to as ballot-harvesting, and it gives Adams's office the authority to clean up the voter rolls in Kentucky for the state's nonresidents. 

Previously, the secretary of state could only remove deceased individuals from Kentucky's voter database. Adams said that his office expects to remove approximately 400,000 nonresidents from the voter roles. 

"We're going to follow the law," Adams said. "I took an oath to do that and that's what this office is going to do. We want the state government's databases to be clean and up to date."

Adams also stated that the bill moves Kentucky one step closer to a universal paper ballot in order to create a paper trail and avoid the false allegations of fraud that were part of the common discourse in the 2020 presidential election. 

Adams concluded that he hopes this bill restores confidence in the integrity of his office and the voting system of Kentucky. 

"I felt when I ran for this office there was a crisis of confidence in the Secretary of State," he said. "I spent my time getting the confidence of everyone, even those that voted against us. People should have confidence in our systems, if they don't have that then we are going to have less and less voter turnout and that's not going to help anyone."

-Connor Wall, associate editor