Kentucky Politics

Incoming Secretary of State Michael Adams says he wants to “clean” Kentucky’s voter rolls and get the legislature to pass a voter ID law before next year’s election season.

The moves by Kentucky’s incoming chief election officer would have significant implications for next year’s political races, when Kentuckians will vote for contests in the U.S. Senate, Congress, all 100 seats in the state House of Representatives and half of the 38-member state Senate.

Adams, a Republican, made the comments before the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on State Government as he outlined his priorities for the next four years.

“I don’t want to go into this election without a photo ID law and without cleaning up our voter rolls. This is a problem that we’ve known about and just haven’t adequately addressed,” Adams said.

Adams claimed that there are 300,000 people on Kentucky’s voter rolls “that we know should not legally be there.” That’s a little more than 8 percent of the 3.45 million people registered to vote in Kentucky.

Kentucky has been ordered to “clean” its voter registration list after conservative group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit in 2017 claiming that the state was failing to remove ineligible voters, in violation of the National Voter Registration Act.

Adams campaigned on the issue, saying that Kentucky has “numerous counties” that have more registered voters than voting age citizens and accusing outgoing Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes of not doing enough to maintain the voter list’s accuracy.

Meanwhile the Kentucky Democratic Party in September sued to block the State Board of Elections from putting about 175,000 registered voters on an “inactive list” after they didn’t respond to mailed notices. A state court in October ordered the elections board to restore the voters to the master voter roll.

Adams, an election lawyer by trade, said he would have to work with federal and state courts that have opposing rulings on the issue.

“I would like to have this achieved, if I can, by the primary. I think it’s entirely reasonable to have it done by the general election,” Adams said.

Voter IDs

Adams also threw his support behind a voter ID bill, urging lawmakers to pass legislation that would require voters to have a government-issued photo ID in order to vote.

Currently, Kentuckians can vote if they are known by an election official or producing identification that could include a social security card or credit cards that don’t have photos.

Adams said he would support a version of the bill that would allow people to get IDs for free if they can’t afford them.

“For two reasons that needs to be in there — one because it’s humane, and the other is because I want a version that will pass court muster. And I simply don’t think that a version of photo ID without this component would be constitutional,” Adams said.

Restoring Voting Rights

Adams also advocated for the legislature to pass a bill restoring voting rights to people with felony convictions who have completed their punishments.

He said the issue was not “ideological” and encouraged conservative lawmakers to support the policy.

“I think it’s a great way for me and all of you to show our voters that we’re not trying to tip the board when we’re trying to pass photo ID and other reforms from the conservative side,” Adams said.

Gov.-elect Andy Beshear, a Democrat, has said he will issue an executive order restoring voting rights to about 140,000 people with non-violent felony records as one of his first acts in office.

Adams said he doesn’t support restoring voting rights by executive order. Amending the Kentucky Constitution requires 60 percent of members in each legislative chamber to approve a measure, which then has to be approved by a majority of voters on Election Day.

Adams said he will push for conservative policy initiatives, but that he also wants to reassure progressives “that I’m going to govern in a reasonable way and listen to their concerns.”

“The left think that the right are stealing elections through voter suppression, the right think that the left are stealing elections through the dead voting, through illegal immigrants voting,” Adams said.

“My role is to govern as the conservative candidate that I promised to be on the conservative platform that I ran on and won on,” he said. But while doing so to be cognizant of the concerns that progressives have about the things I’d like to do.”

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