Kentucky Politics

As the Kentucky legislature continues to meet during the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers advanced a bill that would require counties to purchase more secure voting machines whenever they replace their old ones.

The measure would provide no funding for counties to purchase the equipment, though Kentucky will soon get about $6.4 million in federal funding to boost election security.

That’s a tiny fraction of the overall need, though—state election officials estimate Kentucky needs about $80 million to upgrade voting machines across the state.

Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams told a legislative committee on Thursday morning that there are 29 counties that only use outdated voting machines that don’t create a paper backup.

“It’s primarily rural counties that have equipment that’s functionally obsolete, or at least aging. Those will be the first places that we allocate the funds to,” Adams said.

Electronic voting machines that create paper copies of individual ballots have become the industry standard in recent years amid worries about foreign actors being able to hack domestic elections.

Kentucky is one of only eight states in the country that still has some voting machines that don’t create a paper trail.

Only a handful of Kentucky’s 120 counties exclusively use vote machines that create paper trails—Jefferson, Fayette, Marshall, Madison and Trimble counties.

Rep. John Blanton, a Republican from Salyersville, said that his county governments will need more funding to implement the changes.

“I hope not only with maybe some help from federal dollars, as these things begin to get old and we have to switch them that we can find some moneys as well to help these counties to make this transition over,” Blanton said.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, a Democrat from Louisville, said that the state needs to address the inequality in election security.

“I hope that we can—I know resources are dear—move quickly as possible to make sure everyone regardless of where they live feels confident in the election,” Jenkins said.

The measure passed out of the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on Thursday—its first legislative hurdle.

The bill now has a narrow window to pass into law, since lawmakers are rushing to complete the legislative session in the coming days amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The committee also advanced three proposed constitutional amendments—one that would tweak the governor’s pardon power, another allowing the legislature to call itself into special session and one giving new rights to crime victims, known as “Marsy’s Law.”

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.