Bills offer variety of election reforms

ralessi@herald-leader.comMarch 4, 2009 

Proposals to revamp Kentucky's elections, such as allowing candidates for governor to campaign in primaries without a running mate, have injected some extra politics into this legislative session.

Several election bills, including one creating a pilot program to allow up to four counties to set up voting booths two weeks early in 2010, passed their first tests in a House committee on Tuesday.

However, the early-voting and running-mate bills face an uncertain future. Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said he's concerned that expanding an already "fairly liberal absentee ballot law" could lead to more vote fraud.

As for the running-mate bill, Williams said "people should know in the primary who the team is."

Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson, however, argued in the House Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee that voters might have more candidates to choose from if the legislature eliminates the 1992 requirement for a gubernatorial contender to find a running mate before being able to raise and spend campaign donations.

Both Williams and Grayson are considered to be potential contenders for the 2010 U.S. Senate race and the 2011 gubernatorial election.

Under House Bill 451, a candidate can wait until winning the primary before picking a lieutenant governor to run with on a slate. The slate would have to be approved by a political party and file paperwork for the general election.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, said the bill could help dark-horse candidates, who might not have the initial credentials to attract a top-flight lieutenant governor candidate.

Some were skeptical. "It's kind of like getting married and naming your spouse after the wedding," said Rep. Ron Weston, D-Louisville. Weston didn't vote on the bill, which was approved 5-1.

Early voting pilot program

Another bill, HB 486, will give up to four counties a trial run at managing early voting during the two weeks leading up to Election Day. The pilot program would be open to four counties that volunteer and would be in effect only for the 2010 general election, if approved.

There are no state elections in Kentucky in 2009.

"This is a way to encourage and promote greater participation in the process," said Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville and the committee chairman who sponsored the bill. "I think the last election indicated people want early voting."

Currently, the law requires those seeking to vote early to have an excuse, such as being out of town for work on Election Day.

So far, Jefferson County has expressed interest in participating, Grayson said.

Rep. Jamie Comer, R-Tompkinsville, cautioned the committee that it could have unintended consequences. For instance, he said allowing Jefferson County to be one of the four pilot program counties would give "a huge, huge advantage to the Democratic Party" because Democrats far outnumber Republicans.

Independent voters

Also Tuesday, Rep. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, presented a bill that would allow independents to cast primary ballots. The committee didn't vote on HB 17.

Kentucky is one of 18 states that have no provisions for independents to vote in major party primaries, he said before introducing several Kentuckians who testified on the measure's behalf.

"More people will vote. This is good for democracy," said Mark Ritter of Frankfort, who has been a registered independent since 1991.

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