A victory for Kentucky voters

On April 24, Kentuckians got some good news.

A bipartisan agreement between Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams ensured all Kentucky voters will be able to vote without risking their lives at crowded polling places.

Considering most Republicans in government are opposed to anything that makes it easier for people to vote, it was a surprising concession from Adams.

It should help Kentucky avoid the kind of fiasco suffered by the voters of Wisconsin. 

That state’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, tried to postpone in-person voting but was thwarted in a bitter struggle with the state’s Republican-led legislature.

The matter was eventually decided by the conservative U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned Evers’ executive order and forced Wisconsinites to head to the polls amid the pandemic. 

As of this week, more than 50 people who voted or worked the polls in that election have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

In March, Beshear and Adams agreed to postpone Kentucky’s primary election from May 19 to June 23. Both hoped the delay would allow for a “normal” election. 

In recent weeks it has become clear things will not be normal by the new date. Once again, Beshear and Adams “reached across the aisle” to come together on a plan.

For the first time in Kentucky, all registered voters in the primary will be able to vote by mail through an absentee ballot. 

This week, I received an email from James Jameson, the national organizing manager with RepresentUs. You may remember I wrote about that election reform organization in March.

Jameson wrote that Beshear and Adams “came together on a bipartisan election plan that will expand absentee voting options to help keep Kentucky voters and elections safe. This is huge news — and it’s due in part to the hundreds of calls that RepresentUs members have made to Governor Beshear’s and Secretary Adams’ offices!”

I was among those who contacted Adams’ office about this.

It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback and try to delve into motivations behind Adams’ apparent about-face on the issue of expanded voting rights.

After all, he is moving forward with plans to purge voter rolls, and he helped the legislature rush through a new voter ID law that will have the effect of shutting out thousands of Kentuckians at the polls. 

Beshear vetoed that bill, but the legislature overrode that veto.

Whatever his motivation was, I’m giving Adams full credit for doing the right thing in this case.

As I’ve emphasized before, politics should not be about gamesmanship, but about doing the right thing by the people. This time, Kentuckians on both sides of the aisle did the right thing.

I take two lessons from all this. First, I think everyone involved was smart to learn from the Wisconsin debacle. Nobody wanted to see a repeat of that travesty in our commonwealth. 

Second, citizen involvement matters. No one knows what effect people calling Adams and Beshear about expanding absentee voting actually had on the ultimate outcome, but it just may have tipped the scales. Organizations like RepresentUs can be crucial to organizing and motivating ordinary people like you and me to do something about our dysfunctional elections.

Based on events of this week, it seems the “feel good” era in Frankfort will not last. But Beshear’s soaring popularity in this state might help to even the balance of power despite the GOP stronghold on the rest of state government. 

It’s not good for either party to run roughshod over the state. Both parties have done that in the past.

Here’s hoping we can maintain enough balance to ensure everyone’s voice is heard. 

This article appeared in The Winchester Sun on May 1, 2020.

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