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KENTUCKY

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Kentucky Voter Issues

MARCH 2020

Kentucky: Republicans in Kentucky's state House have passed a new voter ID bill, but it's unclear what the final product will look like. That's because Senate Republicans are refusing to adopt the House's version, which made concessions to Democrats and voting rights advocates who called for a looser requirement. The House version would accept more types of IDs than what the Senate passed; would let voters with a non-photo ID cast a regular ballot if they complete a form explaining why they lack a photo ID; and would let voters lacking ID entirely still vote if a poll worker signs a statement saying they know the voter.

• Kentucky: A supermajority in Kentucky's Republican-dominated state Senate has passed a bill to change a state law that imposes a lifetime ban on voting for anyone with a felony conviction. The GOP's proposed constitutional amendment would give the legislature the authority to set by statute how people who've served their felony convictions could regain their voting rights. That would allow lawmakers to, among other things, impose a waiting period before an affected citizen could regain their rights, which some Republicans would like to set at five years.

The GOP's amendment would also maintain a permanent ban for those convicted of a large number of different crimes, including any violent offense. People convicted of such crimes would have to obtain an individual pardon from the governor to regain their rights, which is currently the case for everyone with a felony conviction.

Roughly half of Democrats opposed the bill, with those voting against it saying it doesn't go far enough. Opponents also warned that it could undermine Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's recent executive order that automatically restored voting rights to 140,000 people who had served their sentences for non-violent felonies. However, Republican state Senate President Robert Stivers claimed the amendment would not interfere with Beshear's order.

If the state House also approves the bill with a three-fifths supermajority support, it would go before voters as a referendum this fall. Beshear has no ability to veto the measure.

FEBRUARY 2020

• Kentucky: Republicans have passed their voter ID bill out of state House committee along party lines, following its recent passage in the GOP-dominated state Senate. Republicans are almost certain to pass the bill into law, since overriding Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's vetoes only requires a simple majority.

JANUARY 2020

Kentucky: Republicans have passed a bill out of the state Senate along party lines to make the state's voter ID law more stringent by requiring a photo ID in order to vote. After a public outcry, Republicans dropped two key provisions from the bill, the first of which would have required eligible IDs to have an expiration date, effectively banning most college student IDs because they lack such dates.

The second provision would have required a voter lacking photo ID to cast a provisional ballot and follow up with election officials for it to count. Instead, voters who don't possess an ID can sign a sworn affidavit and be able to vote a regular ballot.

Proponents of the bill have, however, refused to delay the implementation date beyond November's elections. Voting advocates have warned that a hasty implementation could spawn confusion that deters eligible voters from casting ballots.

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Kentucky: Fresh off their narrow loss in November's election for governor, Republicans have introduced a bill that would make Kentucky's existing voter ID law much more restrictive in a manner that could suppress student voters in particular.

Currently, non-photo IDs are accepted under the law, but the new bill would instead require certain photo IDs with an expiration date. Although it doesn't ban IDs from state colleges and universities outright, it effectively does so via the expiration date requirement, which student IDs from major schools currently lack.

Voters who lack ID can still vote a provisional ballot, but they must present a valid ID to election officials no later than the Friday after Election Day for it to count. If they still lack ID, they can sign a sworn statement, but simply having to take these additional steps creates an additional burden for voters that could deter them from voting.

Undermining the GOP's entire argument in favor of this bill, Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams said he couldn't think of a single case of voter impersonation fraud in Kentucky over the last 10 years, and numerous studies have shown such fraud is practically nonexistent nationwide.

Although Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear victory last year broke the GOP's control over state government, Kentucky is one of six states that requires only a simple majority to override most or all vetoes. Consequently, there's a significant chance that Republican legislators will pass this bill into law thanks to their majorities in both chambers.

• Kentucky: Making good on a campaign promise, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order in his first week on the job that will restore voting rights for roughly 140,000 citizens in Kentucky, around 4% of the state's total adult population.

Before Beshear's order, Kentucky, along with Iowa, was one of just two states that impose a lifetime ban on voting by anyone convicted of a felony. In the Bluegrass State, however, the governor has the power to unilaterally restore the rights of those who have completed their sentences, and Beshear did just that for citizens convicted of nonviolent offenses.

Beshear's campaign promise to use his executive powers to restore voting rights came after his father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, tried to do the same thing as his own tenure drew to a close in 2015. The elder Beshear issued just such an executive order, only to see Republican Gov. Matt Bevin reverse it two weeks after being sworn into office four years ago.

Bevin's move left Kentucky with one of the worst rates of disenfranchisement in the country, banning one out of every 11 adults from voting. That figure includes roughly one in four black adults, the highest such rate of any state. Bevin was facing ongoing litigation over how rarely and arbitrarily he had restored individual voting rights during his lone term, but that lawsuit could soon become moot.

Beshear's new order still leaves most citizens convicted of violent felonies permanently disenfranchised, making it less far-reaching than a similar system of executive orders that Democratic governors in Virginia have deployed since 2016 to make rights restoration automatic upon completion of any felony sentence. However, Beshear's actions will restore the voting rights of half or more of those citizens who are currently deprived of their political voice and in so doing have struck a major blow against the lifetime ban that Bevin and Republicans had revived and refused to reform.