With Election Day 2018 still fresh on our minds, we offer are a few suggestions to make voting more convenient and democracy stronger:
▪ Kentucky should offer early voting or at least no-excuse absentee voting.
Waiting to vote in Lexington on Tuesday, at least one person was observed ordering a pizza, having it delivered and eating it before reaching the front of the line. This incongruity between 21st century expectations and 19th century tradition makes for a good anecdote, but bad democracy.
Kudos to the many voters, especially in Lexington and Louisville, who stood in line for hours to exercise their right. The long waits stemmed mainly from a ballot lengthened by all the county offices and judgeships that were up for grabs. Of course, the ballot will be similarly long in four years and every four years after that.
Not everyone can wait in line for hours to vote, however. Kentucky law does require employers to grant employees four hours away from work to vote. But not everyone can afford to lose four hours of pay or to inconvenience their employers. Owner-proprietors of small — or even large businesses — cannot necessarily afford to leave them for hours on a Tuesday either. There are all kinds of reasons someone might have time to vote on a weekend but not on a Tuesday.
Kentucky is part of a shrinking minority of states (just 13) that offer no form of early voting. To vote absentee, Kentuckians must attest that they’re going to be out of the county on Election Day.
In 2016, the state House, still under Democratic control, approved 12 days of early voting, including two Saturdays, after hearing about its advantages from Tennessee’s Republican secretary of state. Tennessee (Tennessee!) has had early voting since 1994. Unfortunately, the bill died in Kentucky’s Republican Senate and hasn’t been heard of since.
The 2019 General Assembly should allow Kentuckians the same convenience afforded voters in 37 other states and the District of Columbia.
▪ Require candidates to electronically file campaign finance reports.
Voters have few better ways to gauge candidates than by considering who’s giving them money. Voters are supposed to be able to do that before an election by scrolling through the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance’s web site. Despite disclosure laws, voters are being denied that information because so many candidates still file their campaign finance reports on paper.
This election’s large number of candidates buried the Registry’s 12-person staff under all that paper as more than 1,500 reports had to be hand-entered — making “a disaster election cycle for transparency,” as Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer recently told lawmakers.
A hardware upgrade will soon enable candidates to file electronically, even via smart phone, at no cost. The legislature should make sure by 2020 that’s the norm.
▪ Restore felon voting rights.
We’ve oft bemoaned Kentucky’s draconian denial of voting rights to felons who have paid their debt to society, a practice that brands our state with a shameful distinction: the nation’s highest rate of black disenfranchisement. One in four black Kentuckians have lost the right to vote; the rate is even higher for black males: an estimated one in three. Still, it was painful to see Kentucky’s shame plastered across The New York Times in a pre-election article.
Gov. Matt Bevin, an ardent advocate of second chances for felons and criminal justice reform, has done remarkably little to actually achieve those goals. Contrast that with Florida where on Tuesday voters approved a constitutional amendment that will automatically restore most felons’ voting rights, adding a possible 1.4 million voters to the rolls. The legislature should give Kentucky voters the same opportunity by putting such an amendment on the ballot in 2020.
▪ Upgrade voting machines.
Voting equipment that was state of the art when it was new is showing its age in Lexington and elsewhere. Local governments could use help from Congress, via funding for the 16-year-old Help America Vote Act, to replace aging voting machines with new models that produce a paper audit trail.