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Bill Straub: Fortunate Kentucky has Secretary of State Michael Adams and progress on election reform

Kentucky is fortunate in these days of bitter partisanship to have Secretary of State Michael Adams.

While states like Georgia, Arizona and Texas are taking steps to limit voter access to the ballot box in a disgusting power grab to ensure that the adherents of the Republican Party continue in the manner to which they have become accustomed, Kentucky, surprisingly, has taken a different path and actually made it a little easier for Kentucky residents to exercise their franchise.

The main proponent of these measures, adopted by the 2021 Kentucky General Assembly, has been Adams, a Republican from Paducah who told CBS News that, “I’m proud we are expanding access when other states are not…sensitive both to access and security, you can have both at the same time.”

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

At a time when, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, 253 bills with provisions that restrict voting access were filed in 43 states this year, Kentucky has undertaken what Adams referred to in The Courier Journal as “the biggest election reform since 1891.”

House Bill 574, which awaits Gov. Andy Beshear’s signature, establishes for the first time in the Commonwealth’s history a period of early voting – folks will be able to cast in-person ballots the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before Election Day.

It also permits counties to provide vote centers where residents from any precinct can cast a ballot, establish drop boxes for those submitting absentee ballots and require counties to begin the process of switching to voting systems that can process paper ballots.

It’s a first step and certainly runs counter to GOP initiatives in other states that make it all but a crime to vote. But the package is far from perfect. It fails, for instance, to include a provision that permits anyone – regardless of reason – to submit an absentee ballot, a process established in some states that drove record voter turnout in 2020 during an election complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

And it continues some burdensome practices that hinder ballot access, like requiring voters to provide a government-issued photo ID, a stipulation that carries Adams’ support, which renders life difficult for those who don’t maintain a driver’s license.

Regardless, it’s an improvement. It should be noted, however, that Adam’s task in opening up the process wasn’t as problematic as the political issue facing those states that opted to make voting more difficult, even dangerous. In Georgia, which now has two Democratic U.S. senators and went for President Biden thanks to an unprecedented get-out-the-vote effort headed by a former state representative and one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed election bills, signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, overtly aimed at quashing the African-American vote, which was a determinant factor in 2020.

“We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we’ve seen since the Jim Crow era,” Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-GA, said in a floor speech.
That law goes so far as to prohibit the distribution of food or water to anyone standing in line to vote, an issue in Black communities where the lack of voting facilities require long waits to cast a ballot.

In Arizona the Republican controlled legislature is taking aim at voting by mail, which has been a staple of the state for 30 years. About 80 percent of Arizonans use that process. But GOP lawmakers have introduced at least 22 bills restricting the vote and more than half of those address mail voting.

All that may be traced to the fact that the Grand Canyon State now has two Democratic members of the Senate and, like Georgia, supported Biden over the Republican choice, erstwhile President Donald J. Trump. The proposed changes are aimed directly at the state’s substantial Latino population, which swung the 2020 election toward the Democrats.

In Texas, which already is a minority-majority state, with only 41.2 percent of the population listed as non-Hispanic white, the Republican-controlled legislature is, according to the Brennan Center, seeking to implement changes that range from restrictions on voter registration to tightening eligibility on absentee voting to ensure the state’s prolongation of white privilege.

“We’ve written that some Texas politicians were using scare tactics justify their anti-voter bills,’’ the center said in a release. “Since then, it’s become even clearer that Texas will continue to be a hotspot for voter suppression — and opponents of the right to vote are moving fast.”

In Kentucky, a state with an African-American population of less than 9 percent and a miniscule Latino presence, Adams doesn’t feel any pressure to restrict minority voting. Republicans these days dominate the Commonwealth’s political culture – the Kentucky House features a greater percentage of Republican representatives than can be found in Alabama – and the party isn’t facing any real threat to its supremacy.

Regardless, Adams deserves credit for at least having the decency to play fair, a quality that has escaped the grasp of any number of Republican officials.

All these repression efforts are being promulgated under the false god of ballot security as preached by that fabled ethicist and profound fabulist, Donald J. Trump, who repeatedly maintained that he was cheated out of re-election – by 7 million votes, mind you – as a result of massive fraud and breathtaking underhandedness, depriving him of an election that he actually won by several million votes.

Secretary of State Michael Adams

The election, he maintained, was “rigged.”

So, taking a cue from this barely literate grifter, Republican legislatures set about the task of curing the nation of a voter fraud disease that didn’t exist by prescribing a phony tonic that coincidently carried a side effect that has a major adverse impact on minority voters.

Gee, who woulda thunk it?

The claims of fraud in the 2020 election and the word debunked have been linked more frequently than corned beef and cabbage. There was no evidence – none, zippo – of any gross or extensive voter fraud. It’s all being done under a false flag with the real intent of keeping Blacks and Latinos as far from the ballot box as possible.

It is a damnable campaign. If there is one thing that should be sacrosanct in this nation’s experience it should be the right to vote, open to all, as easy and accessible as possible. To instigate otherwise is simply un-American.

On the other hand, a tool is available to address the very real problem of ballot access. H.R. 1, the so-called For the People Act of 2019 (I despise the silly titles posted on these things), which has passed the Democrat-controlled House by a 234-193 vote. Its future is muddled in the Senate.

Guess why, Kentuckians. Take a few seconds to ponder that request. It ain’t hard.

The measure, among other things, establishes uniform federal election rules for all 50 states, limits gerrymandering, updates the voter registration process, strengthens campaign finance laws, expands ballot access and renders mail-in voting easier.

Hasn’t got a chance.

Our boy, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, isn’t enthused. In fact, two years ago, when he was the majority leader, he refused to bring it up on the floor for a vote, explaining, “Because I get to decide what we vote on.”

Contrary to all available evidence, McConnell claims “states are not engaging in efforts to suppress voters, whatsoever.”

Remember, saying it doesn’t make it so.

“So this bill obviously is designed to make it easier to cheat, to subsidize campaigns by the federal government, and to have one party take over the enforcement of American elections,” McConnell said on Fox News. “It’s an atrocity, every Republican opposes it and we’re going to do everything we can to defeat it.”

And so it goes. Democrats would have to drum up 60 votes in the 100-member Senate – it controls only 50 seats – to avoid a bill killing filibuster. So the game of hide the ballot from Black and Brown folks continues. And it’s shameful.

Unfortunately, Adams, who oversaw the modest voter access enhancements in the commonwealth, supports the McConnell position, asserting that “This bill would prohibit state officials from deciding how to run state elections.”

“(House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her cronies need to butt out and leave us Kentuckians to design and run our own elections,” Adams said.

And who pray tell, is going to be there to defend Black and Brown voters in Georgia, Arizona, Texas and other points where suppression reigns?

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One Comment

  1. Matt Hugenberg says:

    I pose a question to you, per a portion of your article, “And it continues some burdensome practices that hinder ballot access, like requiring voters to provide a government-issued photo ID, a stipulation that carries Adams’ support, which renders life difficult for those who don’t maintain a driver’s license.” In the state of Kentucky , you can be issued a state issued, identification card, which includes a photograph, and does not have to be a driver’s license. Why so burdensome?

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