This week, as many Kentuckians were making time to vote in the Republican presidential caucus statewide or in four special elections for open seats in the state House, a legislative committee in Frankfort was considering a bill that would authorize early voting in future elections.
The House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee approved the measure, but support fell along party lines. The Democrats on the committee OK’d it. Two Republicans abstained.
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Early voting is offered in 37 states and the District of Columbia, and it is a reasonable way to increase voter turnout. Kentucky rarely achieves turnout of 50 percent or more — except in general elections for president — and Christian County’s turnout has in recent years dipped to single digits in some elections.
We see voting as a civic obligation, and we look to turnout numbers as a measure of the health of our democracy.
In Tuesday’s special election for the 8th District House seat, turnout was 21 percent among the eligible voters in Christian and Trigg counties. That’s a bit higher than some expected but still not good enough.
Saturday’s presidential caucus generated some excitement for Republicans with 229,667 people voting, which was 53,507 more than voted in the 2012 GOP presidential primary. Still, even with higher numbers, the caucus turnout was just 18 percent.
We have to do better.
House Bill 290 could be part of the solution. It would allow early voting at least 12 working days leading up to the Sunday before the election day. This would include two Saturdays before the final day of voting.
The strength of this bill is the fact that voters don’t have to provide an excuse for voting early. Under current law, voters who cast early votes or absentee ballots must verify they will be out of town on election day for work or a medical appointment. It also covers college students living away from home and people who cannot get to the polls for medical reasons.
Everyone else must get to the polls between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on the one day designated for voting. And they must cast that ballot at the precinct determined by their home address. There are no excuses for being extremely busy with work and family obligations.
Opponents of an early voting bill in Kentucky — one of the last states clinging to an outdated election system — are beginning to look like they don’t want to give voters the convenience they need to participate in our democracy.
It’s time to pressure lawmakers who aren’t willing to be reasonable about the window of time voters have to cast a ballot. One day is too restrictive.
Kentucky New Era