House Bill 574 changes future Kentucky elections



 Some of the changes that were made to make the 2020 election feasible during a pandemic are now here to stay as law thanks to House Bill 574.

The Bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Beshear on April 7, “represents the most significant election-reform legislation in Kentucky since 1891,” claimed Secretary of State Michael Adams.

Adams said that four changes from last year are now law, and three new changes were also introduced with the legislation.

For future elections, voters will have three extra days of early voting. Adams claimed that, even during the pandemic, 70 percent of Kentucky voters voted in person despite having the ability to get absentee ballots.

“That’s just our tradition, our culture,” Adams said. “Kentuckians want to vote in person. We want to make that as easy as we could.”

Counties will also now be able to create county-wide voting centers if they wish. Adams insists that this is optional, and precincts will still exist.

“It just means that [counties] can offer at least one location, or more than one if they want, where people can go vote that’s in a convenient and accessible place.”

He says that voting centers save counties money because fewer precincts are needed, which means fewer machines and poll workers.

The absentee portal, which allows a voter to go directly to the state’s website and register for an absentee ballot, is now permanent. Adams asserts that this is maybe the most important thing that their office did administratively last year.

“Preciously, the voter had to write a letter to the clerk, then get a letter back with an application, then fill out the application and mail back the letter,” explained Adams. “We’ve eliminated the first three steps. Now, the voter can just go to eleck.ky.gov and, in two minutes, has applied for their ballot.”

He says that this increases security because proof of identity is now required to get the ballots, and it also makes elections more accessible.

The ballot curing process that Adams implemented last year administratively is now permanent law. This means that voters will get a follow-up call from the clerk to verify their identity before their ballots are thrown out. It also means that, if a voter gets a call and confirms that the ballot is not theirs, the state has grounds to investigate potential voter fraud.

“This is a real win for both access and security,” said Adams.

House Bill 574 also contained further changes to Kentucky election law that Adams claims will improve future elections.

Ballot harvesting is now banned by law. Ballot harvesting is a process where outside groups go out and collect ballots at people’s homes and deliver them, or don’t.

“It’s a process that’s full of corruption,” Adams noted. “We didn’t want that to be utilized here.”

Adams also asked for and received additional authority to clean up the voter rolls after he discovered a loophole in Kentucky’s laws.

“If I get a notice from another state that there’s a voter that used to live and vote in Kentucky and then that voter moved to some other state and is voting there, I’m notified by that other state,” Adams explained. “Until now, I couldn’t take that person off the rolls. I had to sit here for four years and wait before I could take them off the rolls. That’s crazy. It allowed people to double vote.”

He says that loophole has now been closed and he can take those voters off the rolls immediately.

Finally, Adams says they have transitioned the state toward universal paper ballots.

“When you have a paper ballot, you’ve got the speed of a quick count through these counters, but you also have the security of a paper trail,” Adams said. “If there’s an investigation for fraud or even just a need for a recount, we can now actually count the ballots in a way that we couldn’t count them before.”

He says that this is not an immediate mandate, but a transition process. When counties upgrade their equipment, they’ll upgrade to paper ballot equipment. Adams says that all counties in Kentucky have at least some paper ballot machines already.

Adams says that he got 90 percent of what he wanted in the legislation, but he also wanted to have a shorter deadline for voter registration and the ability for the Secretary of State to be the Chair of the Board of Elections. Still, he says he’s much happier to get the things that mattered most to him such as early voting.

He also stressed the importance of balancing access and security in Kentucky elections when proposing election reform.

“Some states are really focused on access, and they’ve got a blind spot on security,” Adams said. “If you don’t have security, the voters don’t have confidence in your system and they don’t vote, and then the access doesn’t get you much. You have to have both.”

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