Groups challenge voting changes; Adams, Beshear offer different views

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Kentucky’s new Voter ID law has been challenged in court and the same groups want the vote-by-mail system in place for the June 23 primary used in the November general election to extend the same health and safety protections.

Secretary of State Michael Adams and Gov. Andy Beshear had different responses, although being sued for an issue he supported caused Beshear to chuckle.

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The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Kentucky, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Covington & Burling filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday.

The groups are challenging a number of issues, including ones that put residents at “dire and unnecessary risk in order to vote, including a new photo ID requirement that would increase Kentuckians’ risk of exposure to COVID-19 by forcing them to visit ID-issuing offices to exercise their right to vote,” the lawsuit argues.

“Kentuckians should not be forced to choose between their health and their vote. Kentucky can and should protect voters by eliminating the photo ID requirement and allowing vote by mail in the November election because the spread of COVID-19 will remain a risk. Our lawsuit seeks sensible solutions to safely allow people to exercise their right to vote in a pandemic,” said Ceridwen Cherry, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

The provisions being challenged include:

  • A photo ID requirement to vote in-person and by mail-in absentee ballot. Senate Bill 2 was recently enacted and requires voters to present photo ID to vote in-person, and it requires voters applying for a mail-in absentee ballot to include a copy of the voter’s photo ID with the ballot application.

This unreasonably burdens the fundamental right to vote of Kentuckians who are practicing recommended physical distancing to protect the health and safety of themselves and their communities.

The photo ID requirement is set to take effect July 15.

  • A requirement that voters qualify for one from a narrow list of excuses to vote by mail before there is a COVID-19 vaccine — meaning the vast majority of eligible voters would have to physically go to their polling places, threatening both public safety and the health of individual voters.

These requirements disproportionately impact older voters, voters with disabilities, black voters, and voters with underlying medical conditions, the group says in the lawsuit.

Secretary of State Michael Adams, who pushed the Voter ID law and worked on the by-mail vote for June responded harshly.

“Because the far left is too extreme to win elections, they regularly seek to have courts, rather than legislators, write our laws. Today, several left-wing organizations sued me in an effort to have an un-elected federal judge rewrite our election laws for November,” he said in a statement.

“If these self-described advocates for democracy actually believed in democracy, they would let the democratic process work and let elected officials make policy. Instead, this lawsuit seeks to have lawmaking powers stripped from elected officials accountable to the people – the General Assembly, the Secretary of State and even the Governor. I will uphold my oath to our Constitution, which places the power to establish election laws with elected officials, rather than judges; just as I vigorously enforce our laws, I will vigorously defend our laws,” Adams concluded.

When asked about it during his daily briefing, Beshear said it was interesting be sued over Voter ID when he vetoed the measure earlier this year.

“I agree with their reasons,” Beshear said, referring to the concern of people having to go to local clerk’s offices to get a driver’s license.

“I wish they’d done it next year when we were over this,” Beshear added.

“I think we ought to be able to do no-excuse absentee voting in every election…we can monitor it and prevent fraud,” Beshear said, noting the federal government allowed people to go online a request stimulus checks and had confidence it could prevent fraud by tracking identities.

As of Tuesday, four days after they became available, more than 100,000 people requested absentee ballots to vote in the June 23 primaries in the state.

The primary was supposed to take place May 19 but was pushed back due to Coronavirus concerns.

All 100 House seats are up for grabs in November. Currently, Republicans control 61 seats in the House with Democarts occupying 39 seats.

Half the Kentucky Senate is up for reelection where 29 seats are held by Republicans and 9 Democrats.

Adams Kentucky voters are taking advantage of govoteky.com to request their absentee ballots for the June 23 election.

“Voting absentee is easy, secure, and wildly popular,” Adams said. “I’m grateful to the Kentuckians who understand that we have fewer voting locations available and fewer poll workers available because of COVID-19 – not only are these Kentuckians being good citizens by voting, but by voting absentee they’re being good citizens in relieving the pressure on our voting locations and our poll workers.”

To keep voters safe from COVID-19, Adams says the number of in-person voting options across Kentucky are limited.

Adams announced four ways to vote in the June 23 primary. Voters can mail-in an absentee ballot, drop off an absentee ballot to a secure county election site, vote early in-person by absentee ballot or vote in-person on election day.

Every registered voter can apply for an absentee ballot through the state portal HERE.

Upon introducing the absentee ballot request portal on Friday evening, Adams noted that:

* it requires a voter to verify identity with date of birth and social security number

* ballot envelopes have bar codes for tracking

* election officials will verify that each voter signature on an absentee ballot envelope matches the voter’s signature of record

Absentee ballots may also be obtained from a voter’s county clerk, in-person or by phone, fax or email. Absentee ballots are treated as securely and secretly as any other ballot, and can be either delivered by a voter personally to the county clerk’s office, or mailed back with no postage due.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot for the June 23 election is Monday, June 15.