Disagreements over who should have the right to vote and what identification people should show at the ballot box have largely defined this year's election for Kentucky secretary of state.
Republican candidate Bill Johnson thinks people should have to show photo identification before being allowed to vote, saying it would guard against fraud. Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, however, says that many people don't have photo IDs and that requiring them would create a barrier to the ballot box.
The two candidates also differ sharply on registering homeless people to vote and voting rights for felons.
The secretary of state is Kentucky's chief election officer and the official in charge of recording business incorporations. Grimes and Johnson are vying to replace Democrat Elaine Walker, who was appointed to the post by Gov. Steve Beshear in January after Republican Trey Grayson resigned. Grimes defeated Walker in the May Democratic primary.
Both Grimes, an attorney who represents companies, and Johnson, who owns a small business, say they want to make the office more efficient and business-friendly if elected Nov. 8. Both also want to promote civic education and voter turnout.
Grimes, whose father, Jerry Lundergan, is a former state representative and former head of the state Democratic Party, has piled up a massive edge in campaign money.
She reported receiving $412,378 in contributions from mid-May through early October, including more than $23,000 from political-action committees representing organized labor, lawyers, bankers and others.
Johnson reported receiving $62,451 from mid-May to early October. But Johnson, who has been closely identified with the Tea Party movement, showed earlier this year that he could overcome a deficit in campaign money, narrowly defeating a Republican primary opponent who raised nearly six times as much money as Johnson did.
Johnson said his proposal to require photo identification at the ballot box would help prevent fraud without burdening voters. It has become common for people to have to present photo IDs for various activities, from boarding an airplane to entering a workplace, he said.
If people can't afford a photo ID card, he would provide them free through the secretary of state's office, using his own salary if necessary, Johnson said.
Grimes, however, said there has not been a problem in Kentucky with voter impersonation.
State law already requires that if a voter is not personally known by precinct workers, he or she must present identification such as a driver's license, Social Security card or credit card to vote.
The real motivation behind requiring a photo ID is to put roadblocks in the way of minorities, senior citizens and others less likely to have such identification, Grimes said.
"I think at a time when ...voter participation is at an all-time low, we don't need to be making it harder for people to vote," she said.
During the past decade, a number of states moved to require photo identification to vote, but most states don't.
The cost to put a photo-ID requirement in place has differed widely among states, said Jennie Bowser, an elections expert at the National Conference on State Legislatures.
Federal law requires states to provide the identification cards free and to educate voters, she said.
Georgia spent $1.6 million to implement a law requiring photo identification to vote, while Indiana spent almost $10 million, Bowser said.
Johnson and Grimes also have differed over registering homeless people to vote.
Johnson filed a complaint against Walker, the current secretary of state, and the state Board of Elections after the board said people could register without listing a fixed address.
Johnson argues that the state Constitution requires people to list an address. Failing to follow that provision is not only wrong but opens the door to election fraud, he said.
Grimes, however, said federal law requires allowing homeless people to vote even if they don't have a traditional address.
Grayson, the former secretary of state and a Republican, said Johnson was correct that state law requires an address, but he said federal rules trump that, requiring election officials to find a way to accommodate homeless voters.
"I think he's wrong," Grayson said of Johnson.
Felon voting rights
Grimes and Johnson also have differed over whether felons should have their voting rights restored automatically after serving their sentences. Under Kentucky law, someone convicted of a felony loses the right to vote, but the governor may restore that right.
Johnson said that system is acceptable and that he would oppose automatic restoration of a felon's right to vote.
"Just because they've repaid their debt to society doesn't make them a good person, doesn't make them an honest person who is a good citizen," he said. "Voting rights should be for good citizens, not just anyone who wants to pull a lever."
Voters would have to approve amending the state Constitution to automatically restore a felon's right to vote.
Grimes said she would support letting voters decide the issue. She said her personal belief is that once a person has finished a court-mandated sentence, he or she should be allowed to vote again.
Businessman and lawyer
Johnson grew up in Hopkinsville and served a decade in the Navy before working at several companies, including General Electric and BP.
Among other things, he handled information security at GE and a billion dollars in procurement for BP globally, Johnson said. He said he left BP in 2009 rather than transfer to Houston.
He has a small aircraft-repair business and, in 2010, qualified to teach math and business through an alternate-certification process for veterans. Johnson said he taught at Hopkinsville High School last school year but is not teaching now. He also ran for U.S. Senate last year but dropped out.
Johnson said his range of experience in the military, business and the classroom make him the best choice.
"I think we need more conservative voices in Frankfort, more private sector experience in Frankfort, and those are things I can bring that (Grimes) can't," Johnson said. "She's never worked for a company, started a company, created a job, but she wants to be chief business officer. That's just foolish."
Grimes, however, said she has worked for years with the secretary of state's office in taking businesses through the incorporation process, and has extensive experience representing companies in legal matters.
Grimes grew up in Lexington. She worked with the law firm Stoll Keenon Ogden, representing companies in civil litigation and business issues, before leaving to make her first bid for office.
Grimes has stressed a number of goals she would pursue if elected, including trying to boost jobs in Kentucky.
Johnson has argued economic development is outside the scope of the job.
"Unfortunately, my opponent just doesn't know what the job entails," Grimes said. "This is an office that's heavily related to economic growth and development in this state."