Early voting bill clears House, goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill that would allow early voting across the Commonwealth has passed the state House.

House Bill 290, sponsored by House Standing Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs Chair Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, said the bill would allow no-excuse in-person voting least 12 working days, including two Saturdays, before Election Day. Kentucky currently only allows voting before an election by absentee ballot with a qualified excuse.

Meeks said the bill would make Kentucky the 38th state to allow early voting without any justification or excuse, telling the House that the “right to vote should be carefully preserved.” “So what we have here is a question of, at what cost democracy?” Meeks said.

The bill had been brought to the floor last week but was put on hold until an official statement on the bill’s fiscal impact could be drafted. While the state fiscal note says that a minimal fiscal impact to the state General Fund is expected, a local mandate statement on the bill revealed that at least two county clerks expect the bill’s impact on counties “to be significant.” Rep. Tim Moore, who voted against the bill, expressed concern about the possible local impact.

“I think that it is the right spirit, I think it’s the right idea,” to encourage voting, said Moore, R-Elizabethtown. But he said concerns have been raised in his district because “it will cost significant dollars.”

“I can assure you in some of our county clerk offices, a small increase in cost is not minimal—it is a significant burden,” Moore said.

Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson, said she has been told that the Kentucky County Clerks Association opposes HB 290, but Meeks said the bill has received “mixed messages” from the county clerks.

“We have those clerks who say they can handle it…and we have those who say it may impact on (their) fiscal ability to function. So we have mixed messages from them,” said Meeks. He said many counties are already open on Saturdays (as would be required for early voting under HB 290) and that the bill offers flexibility on how many voting locations a county clerk may have.

“I’m simply saying to you…represent those people who would vote if they could get there within that limited 12 hours,” that polls are open on primary and General Election days from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m, said Meeks.

Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, who made the request last week to delay a vote on the bill, said he voted on Monday for the bill because he told Meeks that he would support the bill if Meeks allowed time for more input on the bill. But, he said, he does not think HB 290 is a good bill.

“There’s questions about the language, there’s questions about the constitutionality,” said Hoover.

Meeks said he understands concerns from county clerks and others, and that he will work with the Senate to make necessary adjustments to the bill. But he said he believes expanding access to voting “is the best course for us to go as a Commonwealth and as a nation.”

HB 290 passed by a vote of 57-37 and now goes to the Senate for consideration

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