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Kentucky election bills receive bipartisan support: What that could mean for elections

Unlike some states, the two Kentucky measures cleared the GOP-dominated legislature with bipartisan support.
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FRANKFORT, Ky. — Amid the flurry of action in Kentucky's legislature this week, two election-related bills passed that will make voting easier and speed the statewide transition to paper balloting, Secretary of State Michael Adams said.

Unlike some states, where measures setting election rules have sparked bitter partisan fights, the two Kentucky measures cleared the GOP-dominated legislature with bipartisan support.

The bills — sent to Gov. Andy Beshear — are a follow up to a high-profile election measure enacted last year with bipartisan backing that expanded early voting in Kentucky.

Adams, a Republican, urged the Democratic governor to sign the latest measures, which delved into a range of election-related issues — including election security and voting access.

“Together, these bills will make voting easier, expand our existing audit process, add much needed legal protections for our election workers and speed up our transition to universal paper ballots,” the secretary of state said Wednesday.

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One measure adds six days of in-person absentee voting in county clerks' offices before early voting begins, the secretary of state's office said. It clarifies that early voting locations must be open for eight hours, including the Saturday before the election. It puts into state law an existing policy of not connecting voting machines to the internet, making such violations a felony. And the measure expands the definition of “election worker” for purposes of protection from intimidation.

The other measure moves up the full statewide transition to paper ballots to the start of 2024, in time for the next presidential election. Last year's election law required counties to move to paper ballots the next time their election machines needed upgrading. The new bill sets a definite time to make the transition, the secretary of state's office said. The two-year budget passed by lawmakers provides $12.5 million each year to help counties offset the costs of purchasing the new machines, Adams' office said.

“It is a more secure way of voting,” Adams spokeswoman Michon Lindstrom said Thursday. “The ballots are still counted by a machine and we will see no delays in election night reporting.”

The bill also calls for voting machines to be put under video surveillance when not in operation and it doubles the number of counties subjected to post-election audits. A minimum of 12 counties will be audited if the measure becomes law, compared to six in prior election years. The counties are randomly drawn by the attorney general's office, which conducts the audit.

The election law enacted last year provides for three days of no-excuse, early in-person voting — including a Saturday — before Election Day. It also allows counties to establish voting centers where any registered voter in each county can cast their ballot, regardless of their precinct.

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