State lawmakers want expanded voting hours, other election changes

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Calling it a Voters’ Bill of Rights, the Kentucky House Democratic Caucus prefiled legislation Thursday to expand early voting, extend voting registration, automatically restore voting rights for most felons after they complete their sentence and make voters more involved in the redistricting process after each Census.

“Voting is our most important civic duty, and yet we’re still operating under the same rules that have been in place for most of our country’s history,” state Rep. Maria Sorolis said.  “We think it’s time to bring some of these ideas into the 21st Century. We already know many of our proposals are popular, because voters took full advantage of them during this year’s primary election and are poised to do the same for November’s general election.  Those changes may have been put in place because of COVID-19, but they’ve proven their worth and should be permanent.  We cannot understand why anyone would want to go back to making voting tougher.”

The Kentucky Voters’ Bill of Rights consists of more than a dozen main proposals. They include:

  • Early, in-person voting AND excuse-free absentee ballots: The former would have county clerks offering in-person voting at least a week before an election, including Saturday.  Absentee ballots, meanwhile, would no longer require a qualified excuse.  “I have studied voting rights and elections for years as a teacher and I am proud to support legislation that removes barriers so that people can participate in the political process,” state Rep. Patti Minter said.  “This is what democracy looks like.”

Rep. Rachel Roberts said that her early voting legislation “adds ‘convenience’ as a valid reason for voting in-person at your clerk’s office before election day. The current system put an additional burden on clerks to verify travel or health excuses, and it invades the privacy of voters who may not want to share their travel dates or health concerns.  Together, these early voting bills would help families, hourly workers, and those with transportation issues have more access to voting.”

  • Permanent “cure” process for correcting absentee ballots: “Now that we have seen how much people like to vote by absentee ballot, my bill will make sure their vote isn’t rejected because of a technicality,” state Rep. Cherlynn Stevenson said.  “I want to see the emergency provisions put in place for this year’s general election carry forward in statute. People should be allowed to fix simple mistakes.”
  • Expanded voting hours to 7 p.m.: “Every opportunity we have to expand access to the polls, within the frame of our constitution, should be used,” state Rep. Buddy Wheatley said.  “Keeping our polls open another hour is clearly available to Kentucky voters and we should pass this simple non-partisan legislation. Greater voter participation is the goal here.”
  • Automatic voter registration AND same-day voter registration: “Nearly 30 years ago, the passage of the federal Motor Voter law made it much easier for people to register to vote, and this builds on that work,” state Rep. Josie Raymond said.  “My legislation would automatically register eligible Kentuckians when they get or renew a state-issued ID like a driver’s license, and it would allow Kentuckians to register even on election day and then go vote.  If we can run their debit card in less than five seconds, we can get them registered.”
  • Repeal straight-ticket voting: “Kentucky is one of just six states that still allows this type of voting,” state Rep. Buddy Wheatley and Roberts said in a joint statement.  “It’s time we do away with this relic, because each office should receive due consideration from voters.”
  • Require advance notice of polling-place changes.  “COVID-19 has shown us how truly important it is to notify voters about changes in their polling places,” Reps. Roberts and Wheatley said. “Our bill calls for voters to know two weeks in advance if there is a change in their polling location, which race(s) they apply to, and if the change is permanent or temporary.  Polling-change notification helps ensure voters know when to vote and where to vote.”
  • Automatic restoration of voting rights for felons AND expanded felony expungement: “Voting unfairly remains out of reach for too many Kentuckians,” state Rep. George Brown, Jr., said.  “It’s past time we restore those rights to anyone with a felony record who has completed his or her sentence and deserves to have a voice in who represents them.  We’re one of the last states to do this, and it shouldn’t be that way.  It’s time to pass a constitutional amendment and give these disenfranchised citizens the right to vote.”  Rep. Brown is also sponsoring a bill to expand felony expungement in Kentucky.  “This bill has positive implications beyond voting, but there is no doubt it would be a sizable help here, too,” he said.
  • Redistricting reform/Fair maps: “In the next year or two, the General Assembly will once again re-draw House and Senate districts to reflect new Census data,” Reps. Stevenson and Sorolis said.  “We want to make sure citizens are the ones taking the lead in drawing these maps rather than having legislators dictate their own districts in a way that increases their chance for re-election.”
  • Other election changes would expand the list of which family members could request an absentee ballot for a voter having a medical emergency; make requesting an absentee ballot via the Secretary of State’s secure online portal permanent; provide additional secure drop boxes for absentee ballots; require provisional ballots in state races for voters whose identity cannot be verified by poll workers; and make it easier for Kentuckians to vote who do not have a permanent address.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Derrick Graham said at the press conference that “voting is our fundamental right as citizens, because we are all represented by government and should have a voice in deciding how it is run. This year’s election changes may be temporary because of COVID-19, but they’ve pointed us toward a better direction. It’s time to make these measures law.”

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