While Kentucky’s new election reform law isn’t perfect, Warren County Clerk Lynette Yates said she’s glad it will allow her to possibly implement a change that she says worked well during the coronavirus pandemic and that she has wanted for years.
“Our intention will be to go to voting centers,” Yates said Wednesday. “We could do it by magisterial districts, which would give us six sites. We’ll probably try to do something along the lines of what we did in November. That worked well.”
In November, because of pandemic restrictions, the county had six voting sites on Election Day, early in-person voting at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center for three weeks before Election Day and expanded absentee voting.
The election reform law that passed both chambers of the Republican-controlled Kentucky General Assembly and was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear allows many of those pandemic changes to continue.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of the law for Yates is a provision that allows individual counties to establish voting centers that can combine multiple precincts into one site.
“The voting centers were really popular,” Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, said Tuesday in a phone interview. “This bill keeps them but makes it optional. We’re not going to abolish precincts, but if a county wants to combine precincts they can, with permission from Frankfort.”
Yates stressed that her plan for voting centers would have to be approved by the county’s board of elections and the Kentucky Board of Elections to take effect, but she would like to move forward in 2022 with an arrangement similar to what was done in last year’s general election.
“We have wanted to move in this direction since I came into office (in 2015),” Yates said. “It’s better logistically and financially, and it allows everyone to have an easier place to vote.”
Going to voting centers would allow Yates to ditch a voting system that she said is unwieldy, and it would help address the problem of finding poll workers.
Before the pandemic changed it, Warren County’s voting system included 88 precincts and 49 locations, all of which needed their own poll workers.
“You’ll still need to have several people to man each of the six voting centers,” Yates said, “but you won’t need as many.”
Another aspect of the new law, early voting at a so-called “supercenter” where any registered voter can come to cast a vote, didn’t go far enough in Yates’ opinion.
The law allows early in-person voting on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before Election Day, leading Adams to say: “We have quadrupled opportunities to vote. We’ll have four days instead of one.”
Yates acknowledged the new law is an improvement over the previous one day of in-person voting, but she would still like to see that in-person voting window expanded.
“I would like to see early voting start a little earlier,” she said. “I would like to see more expansion of early in-person voting and take away some of the mail-in voting.”
The new law does maintain an online portal for Kentuckians to request a mail-in ballot, but it keeps existing restrictions on who can vote by mail.
Adams stressed that the law improves election security by mandating a statewide transition toward universal paper ballots to guarantee a paper audit trail.
It also enhances the ability of state election officials to remove nonresident voters from voter rolls. It prohibits and penalizes ballot harvesting, the practice of collecting ballots from likely supporters and returning them to election offices.
Adams sees the law as a modernization of the state’s pre-pandemic voting system.
Before the pandemic hit last year, Kentucky prohibited early voting by mail or in person unless a person could not vote on Election Day because of advanced age, illness, severe disability or temporarily residing out of the county or state.
Adams, who has said his goal is to make it easier to vote but harder to cheat, believes the election reform is a big improvement for a state whose voting laws had been ranked among the most restrictive in the nation.
A study last year by the Election Law Journal ranked Kentucky 44th among the 50 states in ease of voting. Adams believes Kentucky will now move up in those rankings.
“Our election code was written in 1891,” the secretary of state said. “It was designed for an agrarian era and was overdue for a revamp. This is a good first step.”
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