Election 2020

Kentucky’s top election official says he doesn’t want all voters to be eligible for mail-in voting during the November General Election, though he still wants to allow older and more vulnerable voters to do so.

Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, says he’s worried that local election officials and the Post Office will not be able to handle the influx of mail-in ballots if absentee voting is again expanded to all eligible voters, as it was during Kentucky’s primary election in June.

“I’m dubious we can fully replicate the primary election plan in all respects, as we believe turnout will be 250% higher in November than it was in June. And that was pretty high as it was,” Adams said during a legislative committee on Tuesday.

Adams also said he wants to have more in-person polling places during the election and would like to have in-person early voting to try to reduce crowds on Election Day.

Most of Kentucky’s 120 counties only had one in-person polling site during the primary election.

Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, issued an executive order earlier this year allowing all Kentuckians to vote by mail during the primary election in an attempt to reduce the number of people voting in-person during the coronavirus pandemic. The order also expanded early in-person voting and moved the primary from May to June.

Adams signed off on the move as part of a new law requiring any election-related executive orders during the pandemic to be approved by Kentucky’s secretary of state.

The election had the highest voter turnout for a primary in Kentucky since 2008. About 75% of all ballots were cast by mail.

Plans for how Kentucky will conduct the General Election in November are still up in the air, though Adams said he might send Beshear his recommendations next week.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Adams said he thought about 20% of the electorate would be able to cast ballots by mail under existing laws that allow people to vote absentee due to age or health reasons.

“I think that’s entirely appropriate under the circumstances and it helps us somewhat thin out the expected crowds that will vote in person,” Adams said.

Typically, Kentuckians have to have an excuse to cast ballots by mail—if they are elderly, disabled, ill, overseas, on deployment for the military or a student temporarily living outside their home county.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Beshear said that he wants to allow all Kentuckians to vote by mail in November if they want to.

“I believe that with the virus more dangerous now than it was during the primary election that we ought to have no-excuse absentee voting. We ought to have early voting. We ought to have multiple locations on Election Day,” Beshear said. “Why would we back off of it?”

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, said he is opposed to keeping the expansion of mail-in and early voting.

“I think voting three weeks in advance is not something we should do on a regular basis. I’m not a fan of early voting. Campaigns are meant to peak on Election Day,” Thayer said.

Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat from Louisville, said he wants to keep the expansion of mail-in voting.

“I would like to see us have a robust mail-in voting program. It worked really well, the portal worked well,” McGarvey said. “I’m concerned that if we limit that right now, that could cause problems later.”

The General Election is on November 3. Kentuckians will weigh in on elections for president, U.S. Senate, Congress and the state legislature.

This story has been updated.

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