It’s way too hard to vote in Kentucky

A voting machine in Lexington.
A voting machine in Lexington.

Last fall when Kentucky elected a governor, only 30.6 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot.

In 2014, when there was a widely followed U.S. Senate race on the ballot, 45.9 percent voted.

In 2012, when we last elected a president, voter participation was 59.7 percent. That dropped slightly, to 58.96 percent, in the hard-fought race just ended.

So, in a really, really good year four in 10 registered voters in Kentucky don’t vote.

While that is often written off to a lazy, unmotivated populace, one reason so few people vote is because it’s just too hard in Kentucky.

The Republican majority that now controls both houses of the General Assembly should work hard with Gov. Matt Bevin in the next session to extend voting opportunities, including enabling early voting and extending polling hours.

Kentucky’s system penalizes busy people with complicated lives, who work far from home or odd hours, or have few transportation options.

It’s not like this everywhere.

We don’t have early voting. The only option here is to vote absentee. That involves a two-step process: signing an affidavit that you will be out of town on Election Day, and then voting. That can be done in person at a county clerk’s office or by mail.

Other states allow absentee voters to print out an affidavit online and mail it in, or — even simpler and faster — complete the entire affidavit process online.

Even better, 37 states and the District of Columbia allow people to vote early without any excuse or explanation.

In most of them, early voting begins somewhere between a month and two weeks before Election Day. In several states, it begins as soon as ballots are available, and three states mail ballots to all registered voters who can then drop them off or mail them back. Nationally, in this presidential election just over 47 million people cast votes early, up from 32.3 million in 2012.

Kentucky is also among the states with the earliest-closing polls, at 6 p.m. Although a 7 a.m. opening is more common than Kentucky’s 6 a.m. polling start, most are open at least until 7 p.m., some as late as 9 p.m. That extra hour, or more, can make a huge difference to someone juggling job, school schedules and family dinner on the sprint to the polls.

All of this, of course, only applies to people who are eligible to vote, a number that excludes about 180,000 former felons. Kentucky is third in the nation in denying people who have served their time the right to vote.

Despite a promise to restore voting rights to felons, Bevin has restored rights to not one person, and rolled back Gov. Steve Beshear’s streamlined process to restore voting rights.

Voters — whether happy or sad about the outcome of this election — should demand that the governor and members of the General Assembly make expanding opportunities to vote a priority in the next legislative session.