Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams urged federal lawmakers not to “micromanage” state elections. During a congressional hearing on Monday, he said local officials know what’s best for their constituents.
Adams, a Republican, spoke by video to the U.S. House Committee on House Administration on Monday during a hearing about Congress’ role regulating federal elections.
The meeting came as some GOP-led state legislatures are considering bills criticized by voting rights advocates and Democrats in Congress are pushing for voting rights bills Republicans say usurp local election control.
Adams said he doesn’t agree with every election bill proposed by Republican legislators, but that local officials are better equipped to handle the issue.
“I understand the concern many of you have with state legislatures acting in a partisan fashion in passing election legislation. And I would encourage you to avoid the same thing yourselves,” Adams said.
“The reality on the ground is more complicated and far better than what you’re hearing about in this beltway echo chamber.”
Adams touted the bipartisan election bill that passed out of Kentucky’s legislature this year, which created three days of no-excuse early voting and gives absentee voters a chance to fix their ballots if they sign them incorrectly, among other provisions.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Kentucky allowed anyone to request a mail-in ballot during elections last year—a decision signed off by both Adams and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
But the legislature declined to keep the expansion of absentee balloting, instead reverting to pre-pandemic rules that only allow people who are elderly, disabled, ill, or temporarily outside of the county to vote absentee.
Adams said Kentuckians didn’t want to keep the expansion of absentee voting, though he said he wasn’t testifying to “support or oppose” the policy.
Citing an unnamed “high-level official” in the state NAACP, Adams said Black Kentuckians don’t want to vote by mail.
“And to my surprise, he told me, ‘Secretary Adams, please don’t expand mail-in voting. My community doesn’t want that.’ And that really struck me,” Adams said.
“In Kentucky, African Americans want to vote in person, Democrats want to vote in person, everybody does,” Adams continued. “That’s our culture. We’re just different, that’s our tradition, that’s how people feel like they have a voice. And so I think we have to respect that. The best way to do that is let each state do it their own way.”
Marcus Ray, president of the Kentucky NAACP, said he talked to Adams about the election bill, but wasn’t sure if he was the “high-level official” Adams referenced in his testimony. Contradicting Adams’ account, Ray said he supported keeping the expansion of absentee voting.
“We shouldn’t restrict the reasons you can get mail-in voting or absentee voting,” Ray said, adding that he doesn’t believe the state should “just mail everybody a ballot” without requesting one.
“Those two things aren’t necessarily the same. It’s my belief that we shouldn’t put any additional restrictions on absentee voting. But to blanketly mail everyone a ballot, then no.”
Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville NAACP, also said he wasn’t sure he was the person Adams referenced, but that he had wanted the elections bill to keep the expansion of absentee voting.
“The Louisville branch, we’re very disappointed that expanded mail-in balloting was not included in the election laws that were passed by the General Assembly,” Cunningham said.
While the Kentucky elections bill expanded access to voting, the state still has some of the most restrictive election rules in the nation—requiring people to register to vote at least 28 days before an election, banning people with felony convictions from voting and closing polls at 6 p.m., tied with Indiana as the earliest in the nation.
Last month, Senate Republicans blocked congressional Democrats’ massive voting rights bill, which would have expanded vote-by-mail and early voting across the nation, created more campaign finance reporting and required states to have independent redistricting commissions.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the measure “an effort for the federal government to take over the way we conduct elections in this country.”