In normal times, Kentuckians would have headed to the polls May 19 to cast their ballots in this year’s primary election.
These are not normal times, of course, and just as the coronavirus has changed virtually every aspect of our public lives, it is significantly altering the way most of us will vote.
The most obvious difference is the delayed election itself, with Governor Andy Beshear and Secretary of State Michael Adams announcing earlier this spring that it was being moved to June 23.
As part of that safety precaution, all voters are now eligible for — and encouraged to use — absentee ballots. The goal is to avoid what we saw in Wisconsin last month, when most voters there were given no choice but to stand in line, some for hours, at a significantly reduced number of polling locations. That crowding put them at great risk of being infected with COVID-19, and recent news reports indicate dozens did indeed become sick.
The process here in Kentucky will be much safer, and all 3.4 million registered voters will be able to choose from several options to ensure their voice is heard in next month’s primary.
To make absentee voting easier, the state will mail each registered voter a postcard to start off the process. The state will also use a secure online portal for voters to request an absentee ballot, and that request can be made as well through the county clerk’s office.
These postcards will be used to verify whether voters still live at the location where they are registered. If you have moved but not changed your registration, please do so soon. You will still be able to vote if registered.
Requests for absentee ballots have to be made by June 15, and the state will cover the cost of returning the ballot, so there will be no need to buy a stamp. Returned ballots must have a postmark no later than Election Day, but ballots meeting this criterion will be accepted until June 27, meaning complete results will be delayed until then.
Those voting absentee can mail in or drop off their ballots, and those wanting to vote in person can do so in the days leading up to the election or on Election Day itself. Those taking these last two options are encouraged to make an appointment with the county clerk’s office.
It is important to emphasize that most polling locations in Kentucky will be closed on June 23. In fact, Jefferson County, which has more than 600,000 registered voters, will only have one, which will be located at the Kentucky Exposition Center at the State Fairgrounds.
The voting changes I’ve described only apply to the primary election. For now, November’s election is on track to be conducted as it traditionally has been. Still, many others and I hope that the General Assembly will use this primary as a model to make voting easier in future elections.
Early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots are two simple changes that would almost certainly drive up voter turnout, which has historically been low. During the last two primaries in presidential election years, for example, only one in six voters took part.
Another key difference between next month’s primary and November’s election is that new photo ID requirements for voters won’t be in place until the fall. There are serious questions about the need for this recently enacted law, since courts have struck down similar measures other states approved in election years and because Kentucky already requires voters to show some form of ID.
On the positive side, this primary will be the first statewide election since Governor Beshear signed an executive order late last year making it possible for 150,000 Kentuckians with a nonviolent felony record to register and vote. Kentucky was one of the last states to automatically restore felon voting rights, and my hope is that many will take advantage of this. If you think you might be among those eligible, the state has a website where you can quickly check: civilrightsrestoration. ky.gov/.
All Kentuckians, meanwhile, can visit GoVoteKy.com, where you can start or review your voter registration and learn more about the election process. Our county clerk’s office is also a wonderful resource if you want to know more about this primary.
You can email me at Angie.Hatton@ lrc.ky.gov, or you can leave me or any legislator a message, toll-free, at 1-800-372-7181.