UPDATE: Bill with many of 2020’s election measures clears House, headed to Senate

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Rep. Jennifer Decker, R-Waddy, testifying on House Bill 574, which would promote both participation and security in elections.

UPDATE POSTED 2 P.M. FRIDAY, FEB. 26, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ)Secretary of State Michael Adams praised the Kentucky House for passing by a 93-4 vote House Bill 574, Kentucky’s most significant election reform legislation since 1992.

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No member spoke against the legislation, which now heads to the Senate for consideration.

“I’m grateful to House Leadership for bringing this bill to the floor just hours after it passed committee,” Adams said. “Hopefully this will give us momentum in the Senate.”

The bill’s provisions include:

  • Creating three days of early in-person voting, including a Saturday, with no excuse required
  • Enhancing the ability of state election officials to remove nonresident voters from the voter rolls
  • Transitioning toward universal paper ballots, statewide
  • Permitting counties to establish vote centers, where any voter in the county may vote regardless of precinct
  • Keeping the online voter portal, so absentee balloting is fully transparent both to voters and election officials
  • Expressly prohibiting and penalizing ballot harvesting
  • Retaining the signature cure process, so absentee voters whose signatures have changed over time have a chance to prove identity and have their ballots counted

House Bill 574 would make some of the election procedures implemented last year to accommodate voting during the pandemic permanent.

Rep. Jennifer Decker, R-Waddy, who is one of the primary sponsors of the bill, praised Kentucky for a record-breaking turnout in the 2020 election.

“And that result caused many people in this room, many representatives, and many citizens to consider what, if any, of the emergency election procedures should be adopted into law,” Decker said on the House floor.

Decker said she and other lawmakers met with county clerks, members of the State Board of Elections, Adams and many others when crafting HB 574.

“We have not followed a political agenda in drafting this bill and we hope that as you reviewed this bill you have come to understand that it will create free and fair elections for our state from this point forward,” Decker added.

The legislation would offer Kentuckians three days – including a Saturday – leading up to an election day for early, in-person voting.

With the fiscal and logistical impacts in mind, HB 574 would allow for the counting of absentee ballots to begin no earlier than 14 days before Election Day. It would also allow county clerks to continue to offer ballot drop boxes for those who do not wish to send their ballots back by mail.

Another part of voting during COVID-19 was that counties were allowed to create voting centers where any registered voter in the county could vote. That would continue under HB 574.

The bill also addresses some ballot integrity concerns. HB 574 would ban “ballot harvesting” in which third parties collect and submit ballots. The practice is already not allowed in Kentucky, but the legislation would expressly prohibit it in statute and set penalties.

Rep. Pamela Stevenson, D-Louisville, filed a friendly floor amendment to allow a person who is homeless and lacks an established residence to choose an address of a non-traditional place of residence, such as a shelter, for the purposes of voting.

“One of the things we strive to do is to have the homeless participate in our communities, so that they can get their lives back on track with just a little bit of help,” Stevenson said on the House floor before her amendment was adopted.

Another floor amendment, filed by Rep. Buddy Wheatley, D-Covington, called for eight early, in-person voting days within the two weeks prior to an election instead of the proposed three.

Decker responded that she and the other sponsors of the bill could not support Wheatley’s floor amendment due to the financial burden additional early voting days would put on counties.

A roll call vote was called and Wheatley’s floor amendment failed by a 28-68 vote. He did, however, still vote in favor of the legislation.

Receiving bipartisan support, HB 574 will now go before the full Senate for consideration after a 93-4 vote.

“This has been one of the most rewarding pieces of legislation that I’ve had the opportunity to work on,” said Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, one of the bill’s sponsors.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED THURSDAY, FEB. 25, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Kentucky House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments & Intergovernmental Affairs approved HB 574 by a 13-0 vote Thursday.

Secretary of State Michaeol Adams called it, “Kentucky’s most significant election reform legislation since 1992.”

“I’m grateful to legislators for joining across party lines to support permanent improvements to our election system,” Adams said of the measure, which was the work of legislators from both parties, county clerks and others involved in the election process. “As we showed in 2020, we don’t have to choose between expanding voter access and enhancing election integrity – we can have both.”

The bill’s provisions include:

  • Creating three days of early in-person voting, including a Saturday, with no excuse required
  • Enhancing the ability of state election officials to remove nonresident voters from the voter rolls
  • Transitioning toward universal paper ballots, statewide
  • Permitting counties to establish vote centers, where any voter in the county may vote regardless of precinct
  • Keeping the online voter portal, so absentee balloting is fully transparent both to voters and election officials
  • Expressly prohibiting and penalizing ballot harvesting
  • Retaining the signature cure process, so absentee voters whose signatures have changed over time have a chance to prove identity and have their ballots counted

The bill now heads to the House floor for consideration. During the discussion, several lawmakers suggested changes that might be included in amendments,.

Some of those included more days of the popular early-voting provision and mandates for more than one early-voting and election-day voting location, possibly based on a county’s population or number of registered voters.

The measure also bans vote-harvesting, the process of a person getting multiple absentee voters, which has been problematic in some states, including landing some people in jail in North Carolina two years ago.