Election 2020

Kentucky’s Republican Secretary of State is proud of the bipartisan agreement he and the Democratic governor struck to ensure greater access to the polls through the COVID-19 pandemic — and he plans to push to make some of those changes permanent.

Michael Adams told WFPL Wednesday that he intends to propose voting legislation during the next legislative session and believes he can get fellow Republicans on board.

“If you had told me, when I took office, that we’d have a record number of voting, and it would be in the context of a pandemic, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Adams said. “I think we wouldn’t have had this kind of turnout had we not made some significant changes to make it easier to vote.”


 

The state is still waiting on the final tally for voter turnout in the Commonwealth “because we’re still getting back some absentee ballots over the next few days.” 

But Adams felt confident the numbers would be very strong indeed and believes that the changes to make voting easier for Kentuckians during the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to that. 

And, because of that, he’d like to see some of those changes stick around as well, including early voting. He said the Friday, Saturday and Monday leading up to Election Day showed “really strong turnout,” and thinks opening the polls before the big day makes voting more convenient for people who work. 

“Our election code was written in the 1800s, and we just really haven’t kept up with modernity, like our surrounding states,” he said.

What COVID-era changes could become permanent?

Adams and Gov. Andy Beshear’s first agreement came during the primary, when the state offered early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots for the first time.  Similar measures were in place on Election Day, and Beshear boasted about “a bipartisan agreement between a governor and secretary of state” leading to record voter turnout during the 2020 general election.   

“It shows what happens when we make voting easier,” Beshear said during his daily briefing Tuesday. “So we need to put these changes into state law. I think that everybody would like to see that because everybody liked some part of what it was, whether being able to vote absentee by mail or being able to vote early.”

He also took to Twitter after polls closed Tuesday to push the idea that “the next step is to turn this year’s voting plan into state law.”

Again, he and Adams agree.

“We’ve got states around us that are red and blue, and they all have early voting,” Adams said.

Adams is prepared to push for early voting permanently, though he thinks days, rather than weeks, would suffice in a post-COVID world.

Some other changes that had already been on Adams’ mind, pre-COVID, include re-examining Kentucky’s voter registration deadline and polling hours. Kentucky, along with Indiana has the earliest poll closing times in the country. Registration closes about a month before the election.

Adams proposed legislation last session to expand polling hours, but he said an early end to the legislative session meant his proposals for registration deadlines and poll hours weren’t heard. 

“I think we somewhat arbitrarily require people to register to vote nearly a month before election day. That’s just not necessary,” he said. “My bill reduced the amount of time so that people have more time to register… you do want to verify someone’s not registered in some other state has already voted. But you also don’t need a full month to run that process.” 

He said he does intend to propose voting legislation again.

“How much is in there? I just don’t know yet. I have a lot of suggestions, some of them I’ve made before, and then I have some new ones as well,” he said.

Adams would like to see the online absentee ballot request portal become a permanent fixture in Kentucky voting, even if mail-in voting isn’t expanded beyond current rules. 

“More voters are going to use it because they realize now they qualify,” Adams said. “And they realize that it can be done safely and securely and not be corrupted by fraud.”

With that, he’d also like to see what’s known as the “cure process,” notifying absentee voters when there’s an issue with their ballot, become a mainstay of the system. 

“It’s helped reinfranchise many Kentuckians whose ballots would have not been counted because of the voters’ innocent errors.”

Adams anticipates some pushback in getting voting legislation passed. Making these changes will cost money, though he doesn’t know yet how much, and the state is already feeling the squeeze from COVID-related economic hits. He’s also got to get his fellow Republicans on board, especially after the party increased its supermajority in the Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate this week.  

But he thinks he’s got a good pitch this time around. 

“I think a lot of Republicans, who were dubious of what I did, are probably less so now that they picked up a dozen seats or so,” he said, acknowledging that his challenge is to get lawmakers on board before the session is scheduled to end on March 31. 

He said there’s still a lot of unknown, but he does know that he wants “to make some significant reforms” during his term to how Kentuckians vote. 

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.