Op-Ed

Kentucky’s pressing voting rights issue: low turnout

Alison Lundergan Grimes
Alison Lundergan Grimes

Over the past few months, we’ve heard repeated false allegations regarding massive voter fraud in the 2016 election. I recently reported to Congress that in Kentucky there is no factual basis for such claims. And my fellow secretaries of state across the nation agree these assertions are unsubstantiated and without merit.

Nearly every election administration official will admit this kind of rhetoric is a prelude to an effort to suppress the voting rights of millions of Americans. This year alone, at least 46 bills designed to limit registration and access to the ballot box have been introduced in 21 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Yet, Kentucky does have a real elections problem it must address: voter turnout. We need to be making it easier — not more difficult — for voters to participate.

Last year, half of our registered voters participated. In 2015, only 30 percent of registered voters cast ballots. As a result, we have a minority of voters determining what is happening for all Kentuckians.

We’ve made it easier to register to vote by going online at GoVoteKY.com. Now, we must address how we translate registrations into actual participation.

Some lawmakers are advocating for moving our constitutional officer elections — currently held in “off years” — to the same cycle when presidential elections are held. While moving our constitutional-officer elections is an idea worthy of consideration, they should only be moved to a cycle when state issues are at the forefront and turnout for both primary and general elections is historically higher.

Kentucky’s midterm elections meet this requirement. Presidential cycles do not.

The midterm cycle, which includes elections for local and county officials allows for the discussion to center around state issues instead of national politics. And history shows even more Kentuckians participate in midterm cycles across the board, from the primary election to the general election. Moving these elections to midterm cycles would accomplish three meaningful objectives: increasing turnout, saving money and keeping campaigns focused on Kentucky issues.

While changing when to hold constitutional officer elections would take several years to implement and the decision would ultimately be up to our voters – we can act now to get more voters to the polls by bringing early voting to Kentucky.

I have long advocated for early voting, which is currently offered in 37 other states, and it received the endorsement of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

Kentucky is already offering in-person absentee voting to voters who have an excuse. We should remove the excuse requirement and allow any voter who needs to cast their vote early before Election Day to be able to exercise their franchise — same hours, same days, no excuse needed.

The secretary of state of Tennessee, a Republican colleague, endorsed our plan last year in testimony before the legislature. He and election administrators throughout the nation credit early voting with increasing voter participation.

Democracy won’t work for us if people don’t participate. Moving constitutional officer elections to midterm cycles to increase turnout is a fine plan, but it can’t be the only plan. Let’s implement early voting because it might finally be the cure for our woeful voter turnout.

Alison Lundergan Grimes is Kentucky’s secretary of state.

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