Even as President Donald Trump casts doubt on the general election, Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams said Wednesday that voters can have confidence in balloting in the commonwealth.
Joining the Bowling Green Rotary Club via video conference, Adams addressed the statements from Trump, who has called mail-in ballots “a disaster” and expressed fears of a “rigged election.”
“The president says some things that don’t apply to Kentucky,” said Adams, a Republican. “The concerns he has raised are not applicable to our state. We have a safe system that’s not going to disenfranchise anybody.”
To back up that assessment, Adams pointed to the success of the primary election that was delayed from May to June and was heavily dependent on absentee voting.
With limited in-person voting, that primary election drew criticism from some national political figures, including 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who made accusations of voter suppression in Kentucky.
“Our system was attacked by Hillary Clinton and others,” said Adams, a Paducah native who served on the State Board of Elections before defeating Democrat Heather French Henry for secretary of state in 2019. “I’m really proud of what our state has done.”
Adams worked with Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, to come up with a system that he says made it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
The result was a better-than-expected 29 percent voter turnout that Adams said couldn’t have happened without the expanded absentee voting.
“We made absentee balloting widely available,” Adams said. “The governor and I were both on the same hymn book. Three out of four voters voted absentee.”
Despite that departure from traditional elections, Adams said the primary ran smoothly. “There was no fraud and no voter suppression,” he said. “I’m really proud of that.”
Now, with a much higher voter turnout expected for the Nov. 3 general election that includes U.S. presidential and U.S. Senate races, Adams is trying to accommodate the pandemic and that expected higher number of voters.
“My goal is to get as close to normal as possible and also preserve the options made available in June,” Adams said. “We’ve kept the best of what worked in the primary.”
Expecting a voter turnout of better than 70 percent for the general election, Adams said steps had to be taken to increase in-person voting and reduce dependence on absentee balloting.
“We can’t handle three-fourths of the votes being absentee,” he said. “We don’t have the infrastructure. We’re scaling back the absentee voting but keeping it for those who need it. We can’t have unlimited absentee voting.”
Adams said absentee voting is supposed to be reserved for those who may be vulnerable because of age or health issues to COVID-19.
A portal to request an absentee ballot was made available at govoteky.com, but Adams said it will close at midnight Friday.
Starting Tuesday, Kentucky’s expanded in-person voting will begin. Unlike the primary, which saw most counties with only one polling place open on Election Day, the general election will see multiple polling places open in each county in addition to locations for early voting.
“We’re significantly increasing the availability of in-person voting,” Adams said.
In Warren County, for example, six polling locations will be open Nov. 3. One of those, the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center on College Street, will be available for early in-person voting starting Oct. 13.
SKyPAC will be open weekdays until Nov. 2 from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and on three Saturdays from 8 a.m. until noon.
It will also be open on Nov. 3 from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., as will polling locations at Warren Central High School, Living Hope Baptist Church, Buchanon Park, Phil Moore Park and Ephram White Park. Any Warren County registered voter can vote at any of the six locations.
“There will be 19 election days this year,” Adams said. “We’re trying hard to space out the voting. We don’t want to have lines on Election Day. My goal is to get people to vote before Election Day.”
To meet that goal, Adams said his office has worked with county clerks to help find election officers.
“We have found more than 5,000 poll workers to help us increase the number of voting locations,” he said. “Some counties have opened every precinct.”
Adams believes the system put in place for the general election will allow for election results to be largely tabulated by election night.
“The more people who vote in person, the quicker we can count the votes,” Adams said. “I think we’ll have 80 percent or more counted on election night.”
Although he would like to see some expansion of absentee voting continue in future elections, Adams isn’t confident that the changes he and Beshear hammered out will continue.
“Everything we’ve done this year is via emergency powers,” Adams said. “I’m grateful to the state legislature for granting those powers, but I have a low degree of optimism about permanent changes.”
The changes put in place also come with added costs, which Adams said can’t be sustained.
“This has doubled the cost of running the election,” Adams said. “This year, it has mostly been Congress paying for it. They have given us a number of grants. In the future, it (the cost) would be on us.”
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