A bipartisan deal struck between Kentucky’s Democratic governor and Republican secretary of state would allow widespread absentee balloting when the state holds its primary on June 23 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In an executive order issued Friday, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear directed that “all Kentuckians should utilize absentee voting by mail … if they are able to do so.”
Minutes later, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he signed an executive order that would send all registered voters in his state a postage-paid absentee ballot application for New York’s primary – which is being held on the same day as Kentucky’s.
Kentucky’s governor, in his executive order, called on the state board of elections to “create a secure online portal that will allow voters to request that the absentee ballot be mailed to them.” It also requires election officials to send postcards to all registered voters in Kentucky informing them “of the ability, and the process, to vote by absentee mail.”
The plans would also allow for in-person absentee voting to begin on June 8, as well as limited in-person voting and possible drive-thru voting on primary day.
Beshear said that the recommendations from Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams would “ensure that Kentuckians can exercise their right to vote while remaining healthy at home.”
Adams noted on Twitter that “KY law currently allows voters to vote by mail in case of illness or medical emergency. Recognizing current reality, our plan makes this easier by providing a secure online portal, in additional to traditional methods of request, in order to obtain an absentee ballot.”
The secretary of state noted that expanding absentee voting would “reduce crowd size at polling sites on election day.” He added that “we limited the number of polling sites, as we simply won’t have enough volunteers to serve as poll workers, most of whom are elderly and particularly at risk from coronavirus.”
Adams touted that he’s “especially proud this plan requires proactive cleanup of our voter rolls, this year. I ran on that and now have achieved it. The best way to describe this plan is, Easy to Vote & Hard to Cheat.”
Last month as the pandemic was sweeping across the nation, forcing most Americans to huddle at home to prevent the spread of the virus, Kentucky joined nearly every other state with spring primaries in delaying the date or moving entirely to voting by mail or absentee ballot. Kentucky’s primary ballot includes a Democratic presidential nomination contest, as well as races for the Senate, House of Representatives, the state legislature and various judicial positions.
In New York, Cuomo’s push to send all registered voters absentee ballots follows a separate executive order giving people the ability to request absentee ballots for the June primary if they have health concerns over in-person voting during the coronavirus outbreak.
The governor noted people would still have the option to vote at a polling station in the primary.
“You have both options,” Cuomo said Friday. “You can go to the polls or you can vote absentee. I don’t know what else anyone could expect you to do.”
New York was originally scheduled to hold its primary next Tuesday before postponing the contest until late June.
New York and Kentucky are among the 16 states that still normally require an excuse to vote by absentee ballot. A majority of states don’t require an excuse to vote by absentee ballot.
Voters masked against coronavirus line up at Riverside High School for Wisconsin’s primary election Tuesday April 7, 2020, in Milwaukee. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Two weeks ago, after a bitter partisan fight won by Republicans, Wisconsin became the first state to hold in-person voting during the pandemic.
With the state under a stay-at-home order, thousands of poll workers refused to show up over health concerns, forcing many cities and towns to cut the number of polling stations. Milwaukee was down to just five polling sites from the original 180.
Even though the National Guard stepped in to provide some assistance, long lines instantly formed as the polls opened, with many voters waiting hours to cast a ballot. In many instances, social distancing was extremely difficult to maintain.
Democrats in Wisconsin and across the nation decried the rulings to carry on with the in-person voting during the pandemic. As of Wednesday, at least 19 people who said they voted in-person or were poll workers in Wisconsin’s April 7 primary tested positive for the coronavirus, state health officials said.
“This shouldn’t be a right vs. left issue. This is right vs. wrong issue. It is wrong to force people to put their own safety at risk to exercise their right to vote. It is right to ensure that people have options on how they vote,” Perez told reporters last week.
The comments are the latest salvo in the partisan fight over a push by Democrats to expand voting by mail and absentee ballots while serious health concerns persist due to the coronavirus outbreak, over the in-person casting of ballots at polling stations.
Five states currently vote entirely by mail: Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii. Perez pointed to “the common-sense ideas that have been put in place” and stressed that “they are sorely needed across the nation.” And he highlighted that voting by mail is “safe, secure and accessible. It’s convenient for votes. It increases turnout.”
The push by Perez and other Democrats is facing plenty of opposition from President Trump and Republicans, who’ve long opposed moves to expand voting by mail and early voting, arguing that it invites voter fraud abuse.
“Mail-in voting is horrible. It’s corrupt,” the president stressed at a recent coronavirus daily White House briefing as he kept up his full-court press against expanding voting by mail.
Trump then suggested that “you get thousands and thousands of people sitting in someone’s living room signing ballots all over the place. … I think that mail-in voting is a terrible thing.” The president didn’t offer evidence to back up his claim that voting by mail is rampant with fraud and abuse.
Democrats, pushing back on such arguments, say that cases of actual voter fraud are limited and claim that Republicans are trying to suppress voter turnout to improve their chances of winning elections.