‘From the bottom to the top:’ Secretary of State Michael Adams begins second term with same goals
Published 9:22 am Tuesday, January 9, 2024
Secretary of State Michael Adams’ election night victory remarks sounded a lot like a campaign speech.
Adams, who garnered the highest vote total of all candidates running, including Gov. Andy Beshear, spent his first term reforming voting in Kentucky—or as he says, “making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”
Adams, a Republican, has overseen several reforms, including:
- adding mail-in voting as an option in 2020;
- adding early voting days beginning during the COVID-19 pandemic;
- implementing photo ID to vote requirements’
- allowing counties to establish county-wide voting centers in addition to and in place of voting precincts;
- removing over 150,000 dead voters from the voting rolls; and
- transitioning from electronic voting machines to universal paper ballots.
Some of these changes, chiefly mail-in voting during COVID and early voting, were not popular with Adams’ party.
But using his pandemic emergency powers, he implemented them anyway, even if it came at what he thought was the cost of his political career, he said.
“Kentucky has defied the odds and the laws of political physics by taking the highly polarized third-rail issue of how we vote, putting politics aside, approaching inclusively and in good faith and courageously making the biggest changes in over 100 years,” Adams said during his victory speech.
“…If we can boldly take Kentucky from the bottom to the top in election reform, why can’t we do the same with education, with public safety, with quality of life, with social mobility? The answer is we absolutely can.”
While Adams said that he didn’t have any announcements about his political aspirations beyond 2027 in an interview with the Daily News, he does have several immediate plans for his second term.
What is the state of Kentucky elections?
As Secretary of State, Michael Adams is Kentucky’s chief election officer.
He said that despite his first term reforms, the state is still facing challenges heading into a presidential election year.
In 2020, a record nearly two million Kentuckians voters showed up to the polls.
“That time I had emergency powers that enabled me to expand absentee voting, to expand voting days, to make a lot of changes basically unilaterally with the governor’s sign off,” Adams said.
“And thank God I had those tools because it enabled me to handle that election. I don’t have those tools anymore.”
With a potential 2020 rematch approaching, Adams said he has to find a way to get two million voters in and out of the polls without mail-in voting and with fewer early voting days.
He will need the legislature to sign off on any changes this time around.
Adams said that he plans to keep early voting as is. Fewer than 20% of voters used the three days in the 2023 general election, which makes it harder to make a case for expanded early voting.
He added that it takes most states a few cycles to adjust to early voting, but that over time it might even out.
“As long as we’re having 80% of voters show up on one day, it’s going to be a challenging day,” he said.
Adams expects a bill to be filed attempting to repeal early voting, but doesn’t think it has great odds of passing in the House.
What is Adams asking the legislature for?
Adams has two main legislative needs this session.
First, he is asking for adequate funding to staff enough voting locations to handle an anticipated high turnout this year.
In 2020, Adams had over $10 million in federal funds—election money and COVID money—to spend on the 2020 presidential election.
This year, Kentucky will have to mostly rely on state funds. Adams said that he did not yet have an exact figure to share, but said that he expects it to be “a modest amount that’s pretty achievable.”
Second, Adams wants to create a formula for county clerks to determine how many voting locations they need.
Currently, if county clerks want to close a voting location, they bring their request to the Board of Elections, which can pass it or deny it. Adams can then veto the request, in which case it would return to the board for a potential veto override.
Adams asked for the veto power, but he said he would prefer a simple formula so as to not potentially politicize the process.
The formula would include factors like the availability of parking and the number of expected voters at a given location.
Adams added that about 5,000 voters can get in and out of a voting location per day, at the high end.
“I do think that we do need to push back against the excesses of the vote center model where we have a county with dozens of precincts and just a few places to vote,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a good permanent model.”
For years, Kentucky has used Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) alongside most of the country to monitor voting rolls across state lines.
ERIC identifies voters who should be removed from a state’s rolls because they have died, moved or are already registered.
The system became a target of conspiracy theorists in 2022, and several states have left since, including Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, West Virginia, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Texas.
Adams is now considering leaving, because its cost has increased and benefit has declined as most of Kentucky’s bordering states have left ERIC, taking their voter roll information with them.
“To be very clear. I do think several states were irresponsible in leaving ERIC and they were just responding to conspiracy theories, but there were also several states that were not irresponsible in leaving,” Adams said.
“And when you add all those states together, what that means is the value proposition of being on ERIC is very low.”
Adams is working on plans to create bilateral agreements with states no longer participating in ERIC, but he doesn’t expect to solidify those until after the 2024 presidential election.
In 2020, Adams made a deal with Beshear to include mail-in voting during the primary. Republicans weren’t happy, and Adams thought his political career was over.
However, a few months later, Republicans had come around and were using the expanded voting opportunities as much as Democrats.
Adams said he realized then that people aren’t as polarized or vulnerable to misinformation as he thought, and instead are open-minded to change if presented with evidence.
“That really kind of restored my faith in government and politics a little bit, that it’s not just a cynical exercise,” he said. “People will actually listen, they’ll actually do what you think they ought to do, if you make a case for it.”