The ACLU has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Kentucky’s new voter ID law, arguing it increases Kentuckians’ risk of exposure to coronavirus by requiring people to visit ID-issuing offices during the pandemic.
The lawsuit also asks the court to extend Kentucky’s new expanded vote-by-mail policy beyond the June primary elections.
Ceridwen Cherry, an attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said that Kentuckians are being forced to choose between their health and their vote.
“Kentucky can and should protect voters by eliminating the photo ID requirement and allowing vote by mail in the November election because the spread of COVID-19 will remain a risk. Our lawsuit seeks sensible solutions to safely allow people to exercise their right to vote in a pandemic,” Cherry wrote in a statement.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of several individuals who say they have health issues that make it dangerous for them to go to a polling place or get an ID during the pandemic. Plaintiffs also include the Kentucky League of Women Voters, the Louisville Urban League and the Kentucky NAACP.
Last month the Republican-led Kentucky legislature passed the law requiring voters to provide a photo ID in order to cast a ballot starting with the upcoming general election in November.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed the legislation, arguing that it would hinder access to the polls, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, but lawmakers easily overrode it.
The law also allows people to cast a ballot if they show a social security card or credit card and sign an affidavit promising they are who they claim to be.
Corey Shapiro, legal director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said that despite the exceptions, minorities, older people and people with disabilities will still have trouble obtaining the documents necessary to get ID cards.
“Placing additional barriers to the ballot box is unjust at any time, but is unconscionable during a pandemic. We are now asking the courts to intervene before this voter suppression measure takes effect,” Shapiro wrote in a statement.
The photo ID requirement has been a top priority of Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican who campaigned on the issue during his successful election this year.
Adams has argued that the requirement would make it harder to commit in-person voter fraud, which rarely happens in Kentucky.
Beshear, Adams and State Board of Elections Chair Ben Chandler are named as defendants to the lawsuit.
In a statement, Adams responded to the lawsuit by calling the plaintiffs “left-wing organizations” that are trying to have a court rewrite election laws.
“If these self-described advocates for democracy actually believed in democracy, they would let the democratic process work and let elected officials make policy,” Adams wrote in a statement.
“Instead, this lawsuit seeks to have lawmaking powers stripped from elected officials accountable to the people – the General Assembly, the Secretary of State and even the Governor. I will uphold my oath to our Constitution, which places the power to establish election laws with elected officials, rather than judges; just as I vigorously enforce our laws, I will vigorously defend our laws.”
Beshear didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Though Beshear and Adams have differed on the voter ID issue, they worked together to delay Kentucky’s primary elections by a month due to the pandemic and expand mail-in voting during the primaries to all eligible voters.
Kentuckians will vote in races for U.S. Senate, Congress, the state legislature and local races during this year’s elections.
This story has been updated.