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Kentucky election leaders react to federal reform bill

Posted at 8:01 PM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 20:01:53-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — On Tuesday, Senate Republicans blocked the Democrats' voting rights bill. The Biden Administration says the bill - which is being called the 'For the People' Act - would've been good for the country.

"This is about the American people's right to vote - unfettered," said Vice President Kamala Harris after the measure was blocked. "It is about their access to the right to vote in a meaningful way."

However, Kentucky's top elections officer, Secretary of State Michael Adams, was glad the measure failed.

He's pushing back against the federal bill because he believes it would force Kentucky to make changes that don't work for the state, and it would invalidate Kentucky's bipartisan election reform.

"The idea behind this bill is to make every state's election be exactly the same," said Adams. "Every state would have to have a vote-by-mail option. Every state would need to have several weeks of early voting. And that may be good for California or New York, but it's not good for Kentucky."

Adams says Kentucky prefers in-person voting over other methods, so the state should be allowed to focus its efforts there.

"Most Democrats chose to vote in person, even in a pandemic. And most Republicans did too. I think our system reflects Kentucky's culture. We have a history of voting in person. That's what we should have," said Adams. "If you have a law that makes you vote-by-mail - I'm not condemning vote-by-mail but if you have a law that says that - you don't have the money to make as many precinct voting locations available due of the cost of all that printing and postage."

However, voting rights expert Joshua Douglas, who teaches at the University of Kentucky, says the federal bill has good stuff in it.

"Ultimately, the reforms within the 'For the People' Act are proven to improve election administration. Most of them, like universal vote by mail, are used elsewhere, in both red and blue states, to great success," said Douglas. "In the long run, they improve turnout, cost less, and are perfectly secure. So, I would like to see more states adopt them."

"The federal law would not harm Kentucky elections," Douglas added. "Yes, it would require changes, but these are changes that are proven to work. "

However, Douglas agrees with Adams that the bill should be bipartisan.

"I'd like to see the Republicans come to the negotiating table in good faith, as occurred in Kentucky, to create a compromise bill to improve American elections nationwide," said Douglas.

Earlier this year, Kentucky passed its own election reform legislation with support from Democrats and Republicans. That support led to Kentucky making it easier to vote.

Kentucky's law creates 3 days of early voting - including the Saturday before Election Day. It also allows counties to establish vote centers, where any voter in the county could vote regardless of precinct. It also maintains an online portal for Kentuckians to request a mail-in ballot.

The 'For the People' Act is currently split among party lines. Without support from Republicans, Adams believes it would cause half of the country to question our elections. He also worries it would ruin one of Kentucky's only bipartisan efforts.

"That great accomplishment - the biggest reform in 130 years - would be overturned," said Adams.