Kentucky Politics

Republicans in the Kentucky legislature are pushing to require voters to show a photo ID in order to cast a ballot.

The bill is a priority of the state’s new Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams, who also says there are 300,000 out-of-date voter registrations in the state that need to be purged.

During a press conference Wednesday, Adams said that campaigning on voter ID helped him defeat his Democratic opponent during last year’s election.

“The reason I came from 15 points behind in August to win 107 counties on Election Day, is because the voters agreed with my message about securing our elections and enhancing public confidence in our process,” Adams said.

The Proposal

The proposal would go into effect for the November general election when Kentuckians weigh in on elections for Mitch McConnell’s senate seat, the presidency, congress and most seats in the state legislature.

Voters would be able to use photo IDs issued by the state or federal government, as well as photo IDs from colleges and universities as long as they have expiration dates. University of Kentucky and University of Louisville IDs currently do not have expiration dates.

Currently Kentuckians can prove their identities at the ballot box by using several forms of identification, including a social security card, credit card or even if they are known by an election official.

The proposal would create a process where eligible voters could obtain a voter ID for free. If an eligible voter doesn’t have an ID on Election Day, the law would allow them to cast a provisional ballot and then verify their identity in person at the circuit clerk later in the week.

Those who can’t get an ID because of lack of transportation, lack of a birth certificate, their work schedule, a disability or other reasons would also be able to vote, but only through the provisional ballot process.

University of Kentucky election law professor Joshua Douglas said the provisional ballot process can be an additional hurdle for voters.

“Especially if a voter doesn’t have a driver’s license, which many people don’t have who rely on public transportation, it’s going to be that much harder to then go to the county clerk’s office,” Douglas said.

Douglas served on Adams’ transition team and said he hopes that the bill is a “starting point only and not an ending point for where this bill will end up.”

The bill would also require absentee voters to mail in a copy of a photo ID in order to cast an absentee ballot.

Adams said that he doesn’t want to spend his four-year term arguing over the constitutionality of the bill in court.

“That would be good politics for me, but bad policy. I want a bill that passes court muster and goes on the books and is actually implemented,” Adams said.

Build Voters’ Confidence Or Disenfranchise?

If the bill passes, Kentucky would become the eighth state with a “strict” voter photo ID law, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

Republican leaders of the state Senate announced Tuesday that the proposal would be a top priority for this year’s legislative session, designating it “Senate Bill 2.” Senate Bill 1 is a proposal to ban so-called “sanctuary” immigration policies for Kentucky cities, universities and public workers.

Henderson Republican Sen. Robby Mills is the official sponsor of the voter ID bill. He said it would build voters’ confidence in Kentucky elections.

“Every election there’s always a little bit of blurbs going on nationally or statewide and it just increases that confidence if we required people to identify themselves with a photo before they vote,” Mills said.

ACLU of Kentucky legal director Corey Shapiro said that the proposal would exacerbate voting difficulties for Kentuckians, particularly the disabled, minorities, the elderly, and hourly workers.

“The voters elected the legislature to solve the real problems facing this Commonwealth,” Shapiro wrote in a statement. “There is no evidence that in-person voting fraud is a problem in Kentucky, as evidenced by not a single credible instance of voter fraud in the close election last fall.”

According to the ACLU, 11 percent of U.S. citizens and 25 percent of African Americans don’t have government-issued photo ID.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said he was worried that lawmakers were creating “unnecessary roadblocks” toward voting.

“That doesn’t mean the people who are backing it are intending it to be that but I want to make sure that when someone goes in to vote with the world we live in, with all the information, with everything that’s online or in databases, we ought to make voting easier not make it harder,” Beshear said.

Louisville Democratic Rep. Charles Booker, who officially filed to challenge U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday, said that laws like the voter ID bill have led to voter suppression.

“We have to be mindful any policy, even if well-intended, could have the effect of harming turnout or making folks be disconnected or disenfranchised. We have to be mindful of that because that history is real,” Booker said.

Adams also said he is working with state and federal courts to expedite a purge of Kentucky’s voter rolls, though he said the move would “not be done immediately.” He said his office was working with the State Board of Elections “to get the message out about who is being purged from the rolls and why.”

“We don’t want anyone thinking that some government bureau is kicking them off the rolls without some explanation,” Adams said.

Adams said in November that he would work to clean the voter rolls before this year’s primary election. He said on Wednesday that the voter ID bill would not go into effect until after the primary.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the hometown of bill sponsor Robby Mills. He is from Henderson.

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