Early voting, recounts and changed election years: over a dozen elections bills filed

Published 11:48 am Thursday, January 18, 2024

FRANKFORT — The focus of this year’s legislative session may technically be the budget, but election security is emerging as another theme.

Over a dozen elections bills have already been filed, and several have received committee assignments.

Eliminating early voting

Senate Bill 61, sponsored by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, would get rid of no-excuse early voting.

Kentucky’s three days of early voting were originally established as emergency measures during the pandemic but have continued.

However, in a floor speech, Schickel contended that voting on Election Day is “sacred” and warned against “worshipping at the altar of convenience.”

Schickel’s bill would maintain excused absentee voting. It has been assigned to the State and Local Government Committee, but the committee has not yet discussed it.

Thursday, Secretary of State Michael Adams asked legislators to “not go backwards.”

“It would be catastrophic going into a presidential election with very high turnout anticipated to take away three of our four voting days,” he said. “It will be challenging enough to shoehorn an expected two million voters in four days.”

Changing gubernatorial election years

Kentucky is one of five states that holds elections for its governor and other constitutional officers in odd-numbered years.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, is sponsoring Senate Bill 10 to change that to align gubernatorial election years with presidential election years.

Since election years are enshrined in the Kentucky Constitution, this change would require voter approval.

If SB10 passes and is chosen as one of the constitutional ballot questions this November, a majority of voters would have to vote for the change for it to take place.

If approved, the change would go into effect in 2027, with one-time, five-year terms for winners of that election before the next election in 2032.

This is not the first time this bill has been considered. McDaniel has introduced it for over a decade, and the Senate has passed it several times, only for the House to ultimately decide against it.

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said that there are strong opinions on both sides, and that like previously, the caucus would consider passing it.

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, called it a “purely political measure” meant to nationalize the governor’s race. He said that he would rather not “confuse” Kentucky issues with federal and congressional matters.

Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, agreed. She said many of her constituents don’t know the difference between what she does as a state legislator and what Congress does.

Conversely, Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he had confidence in Kentuckians’ ability to study the issues and discern between their votes for president, governor and U.S. senator.

Turnout was down 9% from 2019, despite the most expensive gubernatorial election in state history, Thayer said.

“I think the voters are voting with their feet by staying away,” he said.

Wednesday, SB10 passed the Senate in a 26-9 vote.

Election Day changes

House Bill 151, sponsored by Rep. Chad Aull, D-Lexington, would extend the end of voting hours from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Another Aull bill, HB152, would remove straight ticket voting, the option to vote for all Democrat or all Republican candidates at the top of the ballot as opposed to individually marking one’s choice in each contest.

Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, filed a twin measure in the Senate.

Aull’s final bill, HB153, would include Kentucky in an agreement among states to elect the president by a popular vote. Currently, the electoral college decides the winner.

The agreement would take effect if and when the states that have joined the agreement make up a majority of electoral votes.

None of Aull’s bills have been assigned a committee yet.

Southworth introduced a handful of elections bills of her own.

One would remove student or employee identification documents from the list of acceptable forms of voter identification.

Senate Bill 80 would also remove credit or debit cards with a voter’s name from the list of secondary forms of identification voters can use to confirm their identity if they don’t have a primary proof of identification for some approved reason.

Voting machines

A bill sponsored by Rep. John Hodgson, R-Fisherville, would ensure that ballot scanners and tabulators are working properly.

House Bill 53 would require the attorney general to randomly select at least one ballot scanner and one race tabulated on that scanner in each county for a hand recount.

The count would be video recorded, and possibly live-streamed. The bill is assigned to the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee but has not been held for a vote.

A Southworth bill would require that the components that make up electronic voting systems be manufactured, integrated and assembled only in the United States.

The suppliers would also have to be accredited by the Defense Microelectronics Activity of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Another Southworth bill would require electronic voting systems to have public counters showing how many people have voted at any given time, as well as the ability to produce a real-time audit of votes.

Post-election audits and recounts

Several bills relating to post-election audits have been introduced.

Southworth’s SB84 would require manual tallies of votes for randomly selected portions of counties and randomly selected races.

Another bill would require requests for recounts to specify which precincts are to be recounted, and extend the timeline for this process.

Finally, a Southworth bill would require voter tallies and numbers of votes as shown by ballot stubs, total numbers of voter signatures and paper records to be compared. If they aren’t an exact match, further investigation would have to take place.