Democratic governor in deep-red Kentucky signs bill to expand voting, bucking national trend

“Today is also a good day for democracy, a good day for elections,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at the signing ceremony.

Beshear also made a subtle dig at the GOP legislatures that have taken an opposite tact, saying, “While some states have stepped in a different direction, I’m really proud of Kentucky.”

Kentucky’s bipartisan action stands in stark contrast to the acrimony playing out in Georgia, where corporations have protested and Major League Baseball withdrew its All-Star Game over a law tightening voting rules in a way that critics say disproportionately impacts minorities. (The bill does also expand some voting access.)

Kentucky took a different path for clear reasons. For one thing, Trump and other GOP candidates, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, won handily there in November. As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted in an analysis piece, voting restrictions have been pushed most heavily in swing states with GOP legislatures — like Georgia, where Trump lost and then blasted officials with false claims of election fraud.

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Also, as the New York Times reported, Kentucky has long had one of the most restrictive voting laws in the nation. Even after the recent changes, it will still be comparatively easier to vote in Georgia, which offers longer early voting than Kentucky’s new three-day window.

Still, the bill’s advocates hailed the move as a clear improvement in Kentucky. “This bill does not do everything that I would like to see in an election reform law, but it is definitely a step in the right direction,” Democratic state Sen. Morgan McGarvey told the Times.

The bill grew from the advocacy of the state’s Republican secretary of state, Michael Adams, who noted that until the pandemic, Kentucky’s voting systems were relics of the “horse-and-buggy era.”

“My campaign slogan was ‘make it easy to vote and hard to cheat,’ and this bill does both,” he told the Louisville Courier-Journal last month. “We take a model based in the 1800s and update it to the modern reality of people’s busy lives, and we do it in a way that actually makes the elections more secure than they used to be.”

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Like many states, Kentucky had eased its voting rules during the pandemic, which made it perilous to cast ballots in person. To his surprise, Adams told the Times, he heard from election officials around the state that they loved the changes.

In addition to codifying early voting and drop-boxes, the bill, HB 574, also allows voters to fix absentee ballots with an error, lets counties set up centers for voters from any precinct, and mandates a move to voting machines with paper ballots to allow more transparent recounts. The measure also nodded to Republican complaints about voting security by prohibiting ballot harvesting, among other changes.

The bill passed 33-3 in the state senate and 91-3 in the state House last month.

“While points of friction often get more attention, it’s important to note that on this crucial matter — at this profoundly consequential moment in history — everyone put their politics aside and instead put their shoulders to the grindstone to get this done for our people,” Beshear said in a statement.

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