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KY Expands Mail-In Voting For Primary Election, Activists Want Permanent Change

kentucky capitol
Ed Reinke
An American flag flies in front of the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort, Ky.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear expanded the state's limited mail-in voting due to COVID-19 for its primary election on June 23. The change is temporary, applying only to the primary election, but activists want to make the change permanent.

"If you actually think about the effort it takes to vote absentee versus on voting day, this makes it so much easier for people to vote, and if the intention is to get more people to vote and be active in the political process, this just removes a big hurdle that keeps people from voting," said Paul Schwartz, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, an activist organization that advocated for expanded voting rights.

Kentucky holds closed primaries, meaning only voters registered as either a Democrat or a Republican can vote in its party's primary. 

Initially, only voters with specific exceptions could request absentee ballots. This included the elderly, active military, and people temporarily residing outside of the state, like college students. Those requirements were waived for the primary election.

Expanding mail-in voting has come with some concerns about election security.

"I know there's a lot of security issues, but after going through it, the security of the absentee ballot is probably no worse or better than what you do at the polling place," Schwartz said.

After coming under fire from President Donald Trump on Twitter, some have been quick to criticize the securityof mail-in ballots. However, cases of voter fraud are rare, as it is very difficult to get past the multiple layers of security built into each ballot and the counting process. There were no cases of voter fraud in the 2018 elections in Kentucky, according to The Heritage Foundation.

"As we’ve made it easy to vote in this election, we’ve also made it hard to cheat, with identity verification necessary to obtain an absentee ballot, monitoring of addresses requesting multiple absentee ballots, tracking of absentee ballots received and sent, and required matching of voter signatures before an absentee ballot is accepted," Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams said in a press release.

Ballots are sealed in two layers of envelopes signed by the voter, ensuring that the ballot itself is only opened by election officials. Ballots that appear to be tampered with are not counted. Additionally, when counting votes, at least one witness from each political party is present to ensure a non-partisan tally.

"If the goal is to get more people voting and involved in the political process, unless you show me a downside, this is something that we can do to hopefully get more people to vote," Schwartz said. "I've worked the primaries before and it's a ghost town, so I'm hoping for an increase in turnout this year."

In-person voting for the Kentucky primaries will occur on June 23. Hours vary depending on local polling places, and you can find your polling place at Voters who would have qualified for mail-in ballots before the expansion can also vote early in-person at their county’s Board of Elections or County Clerk Office.