Kentucky Politics

The Kentucky House of Representatives has passed a bill that would require voters to show a photo ID in order to cast ballots in this year’s General Election, a top legislative priority for Republican leaders in the legislature.

After significant revisions, the measure provides several ways for those without photo IDs to vote, but opponents of the legislation say it will suppress voter turnout and create confusion for voters and election officials. Because of those revisions, the bill will go back to the Senate for final approval before heading to Gov. Andy Beshear.

On Tuesday, Rep. Angie Hatton, a Democrat from Whitesburg, was gaveled down by the House Speaker after accusing Republicans of pushing the bill for political reasons.

“To all of our guests here today in the gallery and those of you watching at home on KET, welcome to election year politics in Kentucky,” Hatton said. “My opinion is this bill is aimed at an imaginary problem: at confusing people and winning elections at all costs. Even if it means suppressing voter turnout.”

Kentucky voters will weigh in on elections for president, U.S. Senate, Congress and three-quarters of the seats in the state legislature this fall.

Senate Bill 2 passed the House 62-35 on a near party-line vote — two Democrats joined all Republicans in voting in favor of the measure.

The bill would require Kentuckians to show a government-issued photo ID to vote. But those who don’t have photo IDs would still be able to cast a ballot if they have a credit card or social security card and sign an affidavit swearing they are who they claim to be.

The measure would also create a new process where people who can’t afford an ID can get a free one through their local county clerk’s office.

Rep. James Tipton, a Republican from Taylorsville, said he supports the bill because he thinks it would make Kentucky’s elections more secure.

“My support for Senate Bill 2 is not an attempt to suppress somebody’s vote, I want everybody to vote. But I want every vote to be secure. I want every vote to be accurate. I want every person who’s entitled to vote to have an opportunity,” Tipton said.

There are no known instances of in-person voter fraud in Kentucky.

The bill would not go into effect before Kentucky’s May 19 primary, but it would be in place for the November General Election. Critics, including the Kentucky County Clerks Association, say such quick implementation will create confusion.

Rep. Attica Scott, a Democrat from Louisville, voted against the bill, saying it would disenfranchise black voters.

“We just recognized — right here in Frankfort, Kentucky — Bloody Sunday and that history in our country. And it seems like we’re determined to repeat the failures of our history. Senate Bill 2 is indeed designed to discourage or even prevent black folks from voting. So for them I voted no,” Scott said.

The bill has been a top priority of Kentucky’s new Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams, who said that it was important for the state to implement the policy this year, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is running for reelection in a high profile race.

Adams also said earlier this year that he didn’t have any proof that in-person voter fraud was a problem in Kentucky, arguing that the proposal would boost voter confidence in an era when citizens are worried about election security.

The bill has already passed out of the Senate, which will now vote whether to approve changes the House made to the legislation — like allowing out-of-state IDs to qualify as identification.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear hasn’t said whether he would veto the bill, though on Tuesday morning he said he “can’t support any bill that makes it harder to vote.”

If Beshear vetoed the bill, the Republican-led legislature would be able to easily override the action.

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