Secretary of State Michael Adams testified before the Interim Joint Committee on State Government yesterday, offering an assessment of what worked well in Kentucky’s unique 2020 primary election, and what might be sustainable for the general election.
Adams reiterated that Kentucky’s primary election was a “nationally recognized success”. With the state reportedly seeing its highest voter turnout in years and with no major spikes in COVID-19 cases following the two-week period after the primary, Adams stated that it was a “testament to the wisdom of the election plan; to the Governor… and to [our] election workers and voters, who patiently followed the CDC guidelines.”
The Secretary of State commended the legislators on their ability to enact legislation allowing for flexibility while designing an election plan that suited the current conditions in regards to health and safety.
Adams offered his viewpoint on why the Commonwealth saw a surge in voter response this June:
“Part of why turnout was so high is that the rules for this election were negotiated between a Democratic Governor and a Republican Secretary of State, and implemented by a State Board of Elections evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Election rules must be not only fair, but seen as fair.”
Looking ahead to the General Election in November, the Secretary of State reminded the Committee about the pending lawsuits filed against him that aim to reduce the power, like that which was granted to legislative and executive officials in enacting policies for the primary. Adams claimed that the majority of the plaintiffs’ lawyers do not reside or vote in the state, saying that they instead live in locations including New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.
Adams cited voter confidence and election official competence as reasons why the primary election saw the success it did. Additionally, the Secretary of State offered the following opinion to the Committee:
“If the people tasked by law with developing election processes are deposed of their powers and out-of-state lawyers get to make those policies, there’s really no point in my being here, or your being here. The entire premise of a republic is that the voters elect legislators and executive branch officials to make policy. If those powers are stripped away by an unaccountable judge doing the dirty work of special interests, there’s no reason for people to vote, and there’s no reason for you or me to run for office. We cannot have a functioning democracy unless the people entrusted by the voters with responsibility may freely exercise that responsibility, and be accountable to the voters for how they do so.”
Following this statement, Adams gave his thoughts on what he thinks will be effective for November’s election.
According to the Secretary of State, the absentee voting process was effective in the primary as it made the process more convenient for voters as well as being able to be modified to be “virtually fraud-proof”. Currently, absentee voting is planned to be a large element of the upcoming election, however the demographic of voters who qualify to place such a vote may not be expanded beyond its current guidelines.
Adams expressed his reluctance to include more types of voters, as the projected 250% increase in voter turnout for the General Election could run the risk of overwhelming both post offices and county clerks’ offices.
Early in-person voting was seen as another positive that, according to Adams, has received universal support from all parties involved in the election process. The Secretary of State added that this method of accepting votes has the potential to incur less expense and require less labor at polling locations.
Even though Adams maintained that the primary election day was a success, he displayed concern over the challenges being encountered while organizing locations for the impending election. Finding appropriate locations and younger volunteers to officiate the polls were two prominent charges highlighted during the assessment.
“We’re concerned that the schools and churches we typically use for election day might not be available for election day or early voting”, says Adams. “We’re also concerned about finding enough poll workers, especially new poll workers who are not of advanced age and more vulnerable to harm from the coronavirus.”
The Secretary of State assured the Committee that more voting locations will be available in November, but pointed out that the amount of locations is largely dependent on the number of Kentucky residents who volunteer to officiate the polls.
The implementation of upgraded voting equipment in a number of counties was also lauded as a major achievement of the primary by Adams. By counting paper ballots electronically, Adams claimed that election officials receive the benefits of a faster vote count and the security of a paper trail.
The Secretary of State concluded his opening statement to the Committee by claiming that voter safety and a larger turnout are ensured through processes resulting from the granting of emergency powers to state government officials.
“I have used, and will continue to use, those powers in a limited way, reluctantly and only where necessary. As we develop procedures for November, I will only modify existing election rules to the extent it takes to keep Kentuckians safe and ensure a successful election conducted under a state of emergency — not to implement my own, or anyone else’s, policy preferences generally.”