LWV, other groups applaud voting changes

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) – Kentucky has announced allowances and dropped several requirements for absentee ballots that would have put voters at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear and Secretary of State Michael Adams came to a bipartisan agreement outlining new voting guidelines for the November General Election, which were accepted by the state Board of Elections Thursday night.

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“This agreement will save lives by allowing Kentuckians to vote safely in the midst of the current pandemic by using COVID-19 as an excuse to vote absentee,” said Fran Wagner, president of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky. “In addition, those without a photo ID will be able to vote by stipulating that the coronavirus prevented them from obtaining one. Given the complexity of the new election rules, it’s now incumbent on state and county election officials to provide clear guidance so that no eligible voter is disenfranchised because of confusion or discouragement to participate in November’s election.”

The state’s action follows a federal lawsuit in May of this year, filed by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky, the Urban League of Kentucky, and the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) along with seven individual voters, asking the state to allow expanded absentee balloting and other election accommodations as well as to eliminate the photo ID requirement. According to the ACLU of Kentucky, another group involved, the lawsuit is still pending.

“The new rules issued today are a win for Kentucky voters who now have multiple, safe ways to cast their votes in this historic election,” said Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League. “We are pleased that this distraction has been removed, and we can focus on full electoral participation. The League will continue to educate our clients, community and community partners about the deadlines and procedures for casting their ballots. People have died for our right to vote and it is good to know that in 2020 no voter has to risk their life to cast their vote. We celebrate this bipartisan agreement and continue to count on our elected officials to ensure that every ballot, from every voter, is counted.”

“We joined this lawsuit because we knew Kentuckians shouldn’t have to risk their health to obtain a photo ID or be forced to cast their ballot in person during this pandemic,” said Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville Branch NAACP and member of the national board of directors. “We are relieved an agreement has been reached that strikes the right balance between health and safety and our sacred right to vote. We look forward to informing voters about the new guidelines and procedures.”

The following rules are among those adopted by the state Board of Elections yesterday:

  •     Voters may cite fear of contracting COVID-19 as an excuse to request an absentee ballot.
  •     Voters who state they are unable to obtain a photo ID due to COVID are exempt from the photo ID requirement.
  •     Early voting will be open three weeks before Election Day on November 3.

The League and its partners were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, ACLU Kentucky, Lawyers’ Committee, and Covington & Burling LLP.

“Today we celebrate a great victory for voting rights and public health in Kentucky,” said Corey Shapiro, legal director at the ACLU of Kentucky. “The agreement reached by the governor and secretary of state and the regulations adopted by the Board of Elections ensure that no Kentucky voter will be forced to choose between their health and their vote this November. We hope this spirit of collaboration, with the rights and safety of every voter as a guiding star, continues as part of the broader discussion of how we protect and expand the freedom to vote.”

“Today is a win for the voting rights of Kentuckians. Thanks to our litigation and advocacy efforts, the Board of Elections adopted a set of emergency rules today that will allow Kentuckians to safely exercise their right to vote in November,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We must not forget that we are in a pandemic that is disproportionately impacting Black and brown communities. Kentucky’s newly expanded voting options will remove some of the most onerous burdens on these communities. But our work continues. Our organizations will remain steadfast in our efforts to ensure that elections officials carry out the election in a safe and secure manner.”