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Kentucky voters wary of COVID-19 can vote by absentee ballot

Any Kentucky voter wary of the risk of COVID-19 will be able to vote in the Nov. 3 general election by mailing in an absentee ballot. Voters will also have the option of casting a ballot in person during the three weeks leading up to the election, or waiting until Election Day.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Secretary of State Michael Adams announced the voting procedures Friday after reaching a deal on how this fall’s election will be conducted as the coronavirus continues to spread.

The Democratic governor and Republican secretary of state, who oversees elections, said people who are concerned about COVID-19 can ask for an absentee ballot using an online portal at www.govoteky.com. They can then mail in the ballots or place them in drop boxes determined by county clerks if they want to avoid using postal service.

Voters will be able to begin requesting ballots by next Friday, Beshear said. They must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by the county clerk by Nov. 6.

Adams said his office will be working on the online portal next week and will have it ready by next Friday.

“It will be a robust opportunity for absentee ballots by mail,” said Beshear, encouraging people who vote by absentee to do so early.

How to vote will be “the voter’s subjective decision,” said Adams.

The June 23 primary election allowed for no-excuse absentee voting by mail. About 75 percent of voters chose that method.

With mail-in voting in June, voter turnout — almost 29 percent — was the highest in a Kentucky primary election since 2008. Turnout is expected to be even higher in November with races on the ballot including president, U.S. Senate, Congress, state legislature and several judgeships.

Many Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have been leery of universal mail-in voting. Adams received much criticism from some fellow Republicans for allowing that in June, but noted Friday that most Republicans in June voted by absentee ballot.

The option of requesting absentee ballots for those concerned about COVID-19 was a compromise between Beshear and Adams. Beshear had wanted to keep the universal voting procedure.

The two state officials said early in-person voting at county clerks’ offices or at one location in the county will begin Oct. 13 during weekday business hours and for at least four hours on Saturdays. Early voters will be able to select their time to vote.

They also said county clerks will determine polling locations but each county must have at least one “voting super center” for the county’s voters. In June, Lexington had a centralized voting center at Kroger Stadium.

Adams said he expects there will be fewer polling places than normal because some now are located at places like schools and nursing homes — an area of concern in the fight against the virus.

The joint plan also addresses the new law the legislature passed this year at Adams’ request that requires voters to show a photo ID to cast a ballot.

If a voter in November can’t get a photo ID, Adams said, the voter can sign a document explaining why they don’t have a photo ID.

No photo ID is needed to request a ballot on the online portal, he added.

The agreement for November takes the best of the June plan and fixes any problems in it, the two officials said.

Adams said one of the major complaints of the June election was that it took several days to tally votes.

He said that time should be reduced in November, expressing hope that voters will know who won or lost on election night.

Both officials were optimistic that the U.S. Postal Service can handle a large number of absentee ballots by mail.

Kentucky House Democratic leaders Joni Jenkins, Derrick Graham and Angie Hatton said the plan by Beshear and Adams “sets the stage for another successful election in November.

“Although these changes were brought about because of COVID, we will fight during next year’s legislative session to make early voting the standard in the law rather than the exception, something our caucus members have always championed,” the Democrats said. “Voters deserve more, not fewer, opportunities to make sure their voices are heard.”

Jack Brammer is Frankfort bureau chief for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He has covered politics and government in Kentucky since May 1978. He has a Master’s in communications from the University of Kentucky and is a native of Maysville, Ky.
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