State Watch

Kentucky governor signs bill to expand voting access

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) signed into law Wednesday a bill that expands voting access, making his state an outlier as others with GOP-held legislatures pass a string of restrictions. 

Beshear, who unseated a Republican governor in 2019 and is running for reelection in 2023, signed a measure that will establish three days of early voting, stand up voting centers to provide more options for in-person voting and open a digital portal for voters to register and apply for ballots. It also allows voters to retroactively fix issues with absentee ballots.

Beshear’s signature makes Kentucky the only state in the nation with a legislature run by Republicans to expand voting access.

The governor credited bipartisan cooperation for the bill becoming law, with state Senate President Robert Stivers (R), Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey (D), House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins (D) and Secretary of State Michael Adams (R) joining him for a signing ceremony.

“When much of the country has put in more restrictive laws, Kentucky legislators, Kentucky leaders were able to come together to stand up for democracy and to expand the opportunity for people to vote,” the governor said at Wednesday’s signing.

“Last year, Gov. Beshear and I worked across party lines to accommodate our elections process to the pandemic, and that resulted in the most secure and successful election Kentucky has ever had,” Adams added in a statement. “This year, the General Assembly has followed suit, working across party lines to enact the most significant reform of our elections system since 1891. This is a triumph of both policy and process.” 

The new law bucks the trend of GOP-controlled states considering voting restrictions in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential race, which some Republicans — including former President Trump — have said without evidence was marred by widespread fraud.

Georgia has led the way with the effort, with Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signing into law a slate of restrictions, including new photo ID requirements for absentee voting, limitations on the number of drop-off ballot boxes, shorter periods in which Georgia residents can apply for mail-in ballots and prohibitions on local governments from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot application forms.

The law also expands the hours available at polling places for in-person voting and mandates that every county have at least one drop-off box. 

That law has been panned by President Biden as “Jim Crow 2.0,” and private companies have hammered the law, with Major League Baseball pulling its All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest.

Texas is shaping up to be the next battleground over voting access, with the legislature considering legislation that would, among other things, prohibit the unsolicited distribution of early ballot applications and ban straight-ticket voting.

Despite the new Kentucky law, the Bluegrass State still has some of the strictest voting rules in the nation. Its three days of early voting is still a narrow time frame compared to other states, and it still does not allow no-excuse absentee voting.

–Updated on April 8 at 6:19 a.m.

Tags Absentee ballot Andy Beshear Brian Kemp Donald Trump Early voting Joe Biden Republican efforts to make voting laws more restrictive following the 2020 presidential election Straight-ticket voting

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