By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
It doesn’t quite match what Secretary of State Alison Grimes had in mind, but the Republican-controlled Senate Tuesday passed a bill to make it easier for military personnel to cast absentee ballots 37-0.
The bill is sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and allows military personnel stationed outside of Kentucky to request voter registration and absentee ballots by email. But it does not permit their return by email, something Grimes wanted and which several Democratic senators said should be included.
Stivers, however, said concerns about the integrity of those ballots and identity of voters prompted the Kentucky County Clerks’ Association and Common Cause of Kentucky to ask that provision be deleted.
Stivers said the “executed ballots must be returned by mail, Fed Ex or UPS.” It also removes another provision sought by Grimes — allowing votes to be counted so long as they were transmitted by Election Day but received before the final vote was certified — usually about a week after the election.
Stivers’ version requires ballots to be received by 6 p.m. of Election Day.
Democrats voted for the bill and several commended the bi-partisan approach of Stivers and Grimes in crafting the bill. But they also said they preferred the original draft of the bill and hoped the Democratic-controlled House will restore the provisions sought by Grimes, including allowing ballots to be returned by email.
Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, said 24 other states allow ballots to be returned by email, indicating they are confident of the integrity of that system.
“I think many of us do believe the bill was a better bill as drafted,” Palmer said, reminding colleagues soldiers risk their lives to ensure the right to vote for those back home. Palmer said lawmakers should do everything possible to make it easier for soldiers to vote themselves.
Sen. Jerry Rhoads, D-Madisonville, said he was informed that most county clerks were okay with the original bill, but Stivers countered he had a letter from the association’s executive committee asking the return email provision be removed.
Rhoads is counting on the House to restore the provisions sought by Grimes.
“I hope in the final analysis, we’ll return to the original bill,” Rhoads said.
Several Republican senators spoke in favor of the bill and noted that it includes a provision to study how to ensure the integrity of the ballots electronically and that can be addressed in future sessions.
“I will continue to fight to fully protect Kentucky’s military and overseas citizens’ right to vote,” said Grimes. “I hope the House will join me in that fight and take measures to strengthen the bill. Our military stands up for us, and they deserve to have us stand up for them.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.