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Kentucky Legislature Passes Bipartisan Election Bill Expanding Early and Absentee Voting

Kentucky's Republican-led General Assembly this week passed bipartisan voting reform legislation setting rules for absentee and early voting -- an exception to increasingly polarized partisan efforts in multiple states to remake election rules in the wake of the 2020 presidential race.

Posted: Mar 30, 2021 7:25 PM
Updated: Mar 30, 2021 7:32 PM

Kentucky's Republican-led General Assembly this week passed bipartisan voting reform legislation setting rules for absentee and early voting -- an exception to increasingly polarized partisan efforts in multiple states to remake election rules in the wake of the 2020 presidential race.

The bill, which received widespread support from both Democrats and Republicans in the Republican-led General Assembly, was sent to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's desk on Monday.

Beshear's office has not yet announced when he will sign the bill into law but told CNN on Tuesday he will be reviewing the legislation in the coming days.

"With lawmakers making substantive amendments to some legislation in the final hours of the session, Gov. Beshear and his team will review the final version of each bill over the next 10 days, decide what is in the best interest of Kentuckians and act accordingly," said Sebastian Kitchen, deputy communications director for the governor.

A wave of legislation

Kentucky's move comes as Republican-led legislatures across the country are moving to restrict voting rights.

Last week, Georgia passed a new law that among other things, imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, empowers state officials to take over local elections boards, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it a crime to approach voters in line to give them food and water.

The law, which GOP leaders argue is necessary to maintain public confidence in elections, has already drawn three separate lawsuits from voting rights groups who say it unfairly targets Black voters.

The Georgia law is part of a larger effort by GOP legislators across the country -- including in the battleground states of Michigan and Arizona -- to roll back voting access based on Trump's disproven claims about election fraud or mismanagement.

Across the US, at least 45 states have considered election-related changes this year. At least 253 bills have been considered with provisions that would restrict voting access, according to a February analysis by the liberal leaning Brennan Center for Justice -- more than six times the number of bills for the same time last year.

What Kentucky's bill would do

The bill, HB 574, passed 91-3 in the state House after the state Senate approved its amended version on March 16 by a vote of 33-3.

The Kentucky bill allows no-excuse in-person absentee voting on Thursday through Saturday in the week immediately preceding a primary or an election and sets the voter registration deadline two weeks before elections.

Other components of the bill include a codified procedure for mail-in voting, for which a portal will go live "no more than 45 days before a primary or an election." The measure also includes an automatic recount trigger for vote margins of 0.5% or less for "constitutional officers, members of Congress, and members of the General Assembly."

Nevertheless, races involving the governor and lieutenant governor, members of Congress and of the state General Assembly can be recounted even if they do not qualify in the automatic threshold.

Additionally, ballots involving a signature discrepancy or error will be eligible for "curing," or amending, and each county will be allowed a minimum of one secure ballot drop box. Voting tabulation methods will also be expanded to include technology to count paper ballots, as opposed to a system that solely counts electronically cast votes, and language for striking registered voters who have moved or since registered in another jurisdiction.

The bill also addresses potential chain of custody issues, which became a contentious topic nationwide after former President Donald Trump baselessly accused several states he lost of improperly counting votes. It also provides for "a minimum of one voting location for every 75,000 voters in a county."

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