Kentucky Politics

Republican lawmakers unveiled a bill Thursday that would make several changes to Kentucky’s elections, including instituting three days of no-excuse early voting and giving absentee voters a chance to fix their ballots if they sign them incorrectly.

The bill also includes election security measures like a ban on so-called “ballot harvesting,” where people collect and submit ballots for absentee voters. It would also make it easier for the secretary of state to cut people who have moved out of state from Kentucky’s voter rolls.

Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams said he believes the bill will expand voting access while boosting election integrity.

“In many other states right now, legislatures are debating restricting access of their voters to the ballot. Not here in Kentucky. What you all are debating today and hopefully considering is actually making it easier for our voters to vote. I’m really proud today to be a Kentuckian,” Adams said.

House Bill 574 preserves some of the changes made last year by Adams and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to expand voting options during the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure allows counties to have “vote centers” where anybody in the county can cast ballots, no matter their home precinct, an option first made available in 2020.

It continues the online portal voters can use to request an absentee ballot, though access to absentee ballots will revert to pre-pandemic rules: Voters have to be elderly, disabled, ill, in the military or temporarily reside outside of the county to vote by mail.

The measure also allows clerks to begin processing absentee ballots 14 days before an election, helping them publish vote totals more quickly on Election Day.

Rep. Josh Branscum, a Republican from Russell Springs and sponsor of the bill, said stakeholders whittled down a long list of policies to include in the bill.

“Let’s pick some low-hanging fruit and some things that will really benefit our elections, make them more secure and uphold the integrity of our elections,” Branscum said.

Rep. Buddy Wheatley, a Democrat from Covington, praised the bill for keeping elements of Kentucky’s election processes last year.

“People did have doubts coming in, but once they went through the process, there was almost always [a] thumbs up,” Wheatley said.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul took time to advocate for the bill during a committee meeting earlier this month, but the Republican sponsors of the measure refused to discuss its contents until it was unveiled on Tuesday, the last day lawmakers could file bills during this year’s legislative session.

At Paul’s request, the bill includes language that only the legislature can revise or suspend election-related laws. Paul has criticized secretaries of state around the country for changing election procedures during the pandemic, though he has avoided targeting Kentucky, which expanded mail-in and early voting at the behest of Adams and Beshear.

The measure unanimously passed out of the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on Thursday.

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