A bill that would allow a minimum of 12 days of early, no-excuse voting before Election Day by all registered voters in Kentucky, is currently in the Senate’s Veterans, Military Affairs & Public Protection Committee, and apparently at this point has not been scheduled for a hearing.
Numbered HB 290, the measure passed the House last week by a vote of 57-37. If the bill is approved by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin, it would allow early voting by all registered voters ahead of the November 8 general election.
It is uncertain at the moment if the bill, sponsored by Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, has been placed on the Senate committee’s agenda for a hearing. The Veterans, Military Affairs & Public Protection Committee is chaired by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, and he will deterimine if the bill gets a hearing. A spokeswoman in Robinson’s office said she has not seen a copy of the committee’s latest agenda.
Time is running out in the current legislative session. In even-numbered years (2016), sessions may not last more than 60 legislative days, and cannot extend beyond April 15.
Meeks was quoted as saying the bill would make Kentucky the 38th state to allow early voting without any justification or excuse, telling the House that the “right to vote should be carefully preserved. So what we have here is a question of, at what cost democracy?” Meeks said.
“We have those clerks who say they can handle it…and we have those who say it may impact on (their) fiscal ability to function. So we have mixed messages from them,” said Meeks. He said many counties are already open on Saturdays (as would be required for early voting under HB 290) and that the bill offers flexibility on how many voting locations a county clerk may have.
Pulaski County Clerk Linda Burnett pointed out absentee voters who, in effect, “swear” they physically, or for some other reason, are not able to go to the polls on Election Day, are currently allowed to vote at the clerk’s office beginning 12 days before the election and a half day on the Saturday before an election.
“I’m simply saying to you…represent those people who would vote if they could get there within that limited 12 hours;” that polls are open on primary and General Election days from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m, said Meeks.
Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, was quoted as saying he voted for the bill because he told Meeks that he would support the bill if Meeks allowed time for more input on the bill. But, he said, he does not think HB 290 is a good bill.
“There’s questions about the language, there’s questions about the constitutionality,” said Hoover.
Burnett did not say how she personally feels about the early voting bill but she commented that several county clerks in Kentucky worry about the extra costs of elections for county fiscal courts, and some believe early voting might open up elections to an increased opportunity for voter fraud. Burnett wonders if heavy voting during local elections might generate long lines of early voters and create problems for election officials.
Meeks said he understands concerns from county clerks and others, and that he will work with the Senate to make necessary adjustments to the bill. But he said he believes expanding access to voting “is the best course for us to go as a Commonwealth and as a nation.”
Two Pulaski County election officials heartily support early voting for everybody.
“We welcome it ... I’d like to see it happen,” said Mark Vaught, election coordinator for Pulaski County. “It (early voting period) would fall within the same early absentee voting period we now have.”
Vaught doesn’t think early voting would be a problem. “I think the one voting machine we now use (for early absentee voting) would be sufficient ... we can vote 100 people a day,” said Vaught. “We might have to assign another deputy clerk to supervise,” he added.
HB 290 doesn’t address numbers of precincts or locations for early voting. Mary Sue Helm, director of Administration and Elections for the secretary of state, said county officials, as they can now, may request additional voting locations to be approved by the State Board of Elections.
Brian Wilkinson, spokesperson for House Speaker Greg Stumbo, said HB 290 does not have an emergency clause, meaning, if approved, it would take effect in 90 days (in July) and would apply to the November 8 general election. The May 17 primary elections would be conducted until existing law, meaning only absentee voters who “swear” they will be out of the county on Election Day would be allowed to vote early.