The record voter turnout in Kentucky’s primary election demonstrates the emergency plan for voting was a success. Voters surpassed the previous record of votes cast by over 80,000 votes and about 75% of votes cast were done by mail. Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, has been on a (much-deserved) victory lap in the weeks since the primary.
“With Kentucky near the bottom in so many areas, I’m proud to have put Kentucky at the top for once,” he posted on social media June 24, a day after polls closed. The tweet included a graphic, stating: “Today we are number one. We provided an example to the entire country of how to successfully run an election during a pandemic. I’m so proud of the bipartisan coalition of my team, the governor, state board of elections and the county clerks of both parties who came together and made this a success,” followed by his campaign slogan, “Easy to vote. Hard to cheat.”
Since the primary, however, Adams has refused to promise for November’s general election any of the expanded voting options that made the primary such a success. Even more troubling, Senate Bill 2 has just become law. Now, every Kentuckian must present a driver’s license or other approved photo identification at the polls in order to vote. Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed the bill, but the GOP-controlled legislature overturned his veto.
Proving his conservative bona fides, Adams seems content to not improve voter turnout too much, too quickly. Instead, returning to regular, in-person voting in the fall under a voter ID law will work against the gains made in the primary.
Josh Douglas, a UK law professor and author of “Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting,” concluded that SB 2 “would make it harder to vote and has zero fraud-reducing benefits.”
“Photo ID laws for voting are a solution in search of a problem. The only kind of voter fraud that a photo ID law can prevent is someone showing up to the polls and pretending they are someone else. Yet we know, from careful studies, that that kind of fraud simply does not exist. One study looked at over a billion ballots cast over 12 years and found only 31 potential instances of in-person impersonation and even most of those allegations turned out to be innocuous after further inquiry.”
Adams testified on behalf of SB 2 in the Senate Local Government Committee in January and could not point to any cases of in-person voter fraud in Kentucky caused by identity misrepresentation. But, it was a campaign promise he delivered.
A few months and a pandemic later, Adams decided to work with Beshear to save the primary. Now, he has a chance to extend those provisions for the November election. As for the new law, who are the people who will suffer the most from it?
More than 21 million — or 11% of — Americans and 25% of Black Americans, do not have a government-issued photo ID, which is part of the reason why the ACLU opposes voter ID laws.
Chances are that some of the roughly 41,000 people riding TARC every day do not have a license. So, now Adams and state Republicans are requiring them to get a voter ID card from the local circuit court clerk’s office to vote. (Help is available for those who cannot afford the $30 ID card, which, while a nice consideration, means the taxpayers foot the bill for something that is unnecessary and obstructive; similar bills cost $20 million in North Carolina and $10 million in Indiana.)
Complicating things more, it is more difficult now to get a driver’s license or photo ID — three of Jefferson County Circuit Clerk’s six branches remain closed because of COVID-19.
If the COVID crisis forces officials to again make alternative voting options available in November, Adams faces the possibility of having to work a new (undoubtedly complicated and expensive) layer of processing photo IDs onto an unprecedented, untested election effort. Or, he would face the humiliation of having to actively work to have his own bill exempted, further underscoring its irrelevance in protecting election integrity.
“I’m not going to abuse my emergency powers by making a recommendation to the governor before I know what kind of a situation we have in the fall, but I’m not going to sit on my hands unnecessarily,” Adams responded when pressed on whether mail-in voting will be expanded again in the fall. That is a fair, responsible approach.
However, we now know what the situation on the ground was in June: Mail-in voting was a huge success, it didn’t lead to massive voter fraud, and it’s popular. That won’t change with a flattened curve or vaccine or an ideological battler over Beshear’s mask order. Adams tweeted a mask-wearing selfie and said, “The courts will pronounce on the legality of the Governor’s order, but I choose to wear a face covering because I want in-person voting in November.”
Well, he got part of it right.
Let’s hope he decides to work with Beshear again in the fall by continuing absentee voting expansion and foregoing the disenfranchising burden of SB 2.