After an unprecedented 2020 election cycle that included pandemic-driven changes to voting procedures, threats to election officials, and baseless claims of a stolen presidential election, many Americans may be wondering what the 2022 midterm elections will bring.
In Kentucky, there are some changes to how and when people can vote. Secretary of State Michael Adams says voters should also be prepared for a lengthy ballot that includes federal and state legislative races, local city and county contests, a slew of judicial elections, and two proposed amendments to the state constitution.
“I think it’s the longest [ballot] ever,” says Adams.
“If you’re voting straight ticket, that’s great, that’s your right, but you’re not done yet,” he adds. “There’s plenty more to vote on that doesn’t get covered by a straight-ticket pull.”
Races for the Kentucky Supreme Court and Court of Appeals as well as circuit and district judge races are nonpartisan, so straight-ticket voters will still have to make selections in those contests as well as on the proposed amendments, which will appear at the end of the ballot.
For about 100 years, the sitting Secretary of State and Attorney General could craft voter-friendly summaries of proposed amendments that would appear on the ballot. Adams says that changed in 2019 when the state Supreme Court ruled that the entire text of proposed constitutional amendments must be printed on the ballot. In the case of this year’s amendment on legislative sessions, that’s 11 paragraphs of legalese.
“You shouldn’t need a law degree to vote,” says Adams. “I understand the rationale for that, but the problem is it actually is going to cost our state a lot of money, it’s going to make the ballots longer, it’s going to potentially deter people from voting on the issue because they don’t have the patience or understanding to go through 744 words of constitutional law.”
State statute gives voters two minutes to complete their ballots. Adams says he’s never heard of poll workers enforcing that rule, but he does encourage voters to review a sample ballot (available at govote.ky.gov) and decide their candidate picks before they got to the polls. He says a time limit on voting wouldn’t be necessary unless voter turnout is exceptionally high, which he doesn’t expect this November.
“We’ll have a healthy turnout, but not at the level that we saw in 2020,” says Adams.
The secretary says his office has seen a surge of voter registrations as election day nears, with about 20,000 registrations processed in September. He says the bulk of those were Republicans, but he adds that independents are growing proportionally faster than the other two parties. He says independents tend to be younger voters, which is the group that usually votes the least.
“So the big question is, do they actually come out and vote,” he says, “and if they do, whom do they vote for?”
In the run up to the 2020 general election, there were 50,000 new registrations in September, according to Adams. When the dust settled from the balloting that year, Kentucky saw a 64 percent voter turnout. Adams says he expects this midterm to see turnout in the 40s. He attributes the lower percentage to a relatively quiet race at the top of the ticket: The U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Republican Rand Paul and Democratic challenger Charles Booker.
Voting Processes This Year
Voters have until Tuesday, Oct. 25 to request an absentee ballot, which Adams says must be returned to your county clerk’s office by 6 p.m. on election day (there is no grace period for ballots delivered after election day). Absentee ballots can be delivered to official drop boxes provided in each county or they may be returned by mail. Adams advises voters to use two or three first-class stamps on the envelope to ensure sufficient postage and to put ballots in the mail as soon as possible. Unlike in 2020, mailed ballots that arrive after election day will not be counted.
To ensure the security of absentee votes, Adams says the voter’s signature on the ballot will be matched against the signature on their voter registration or driver’s license. If they don’t match, the county clerk’s office will contact the voter to confirm the legitimacy of the ballot. Kentucky didn’t always have this “curing” process. In 2018, about 10,000 absentee ballots were discarded per state law at the time because of questionable signatures, according to Adams.
Individuals who are unavailable to vote on election day may cast in-person absentee ballots at specified locations in each county on Oct. 26, 27, 28, and 31 as well as on Nov. 1 and 2. Early voting open to any registered voter will be available on Nov. 3, 4, and 5. Voting on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Adams says all voting in Kentucky will be done on paper ballots. To see a list of early voting and election day voting sites, visit the State Board of Elections website.
Because of health concerns during the initial months of the COVID pandemic, Adams and Gov. Andy Beshear collaborated on a plan to allow Kentuckians to vote absentee without an excuse. They also scheduled three weeks of early in-person voting. Adams says it’s important to continue to give voters options without extending the election season too much.
“I think we’ve found the sweet spot,” the secretary says. “One day to vote is way too stingy… But I also think that having two- or three-week-long elections distorts the outcomes in favor of people with high name ID or a lot of money.”
Stress and Threats Facing State and Local Election Officials
While preparing for this year’s general election, the Secretary of State’s office as well as county clerks across the commonwealth have fielded open records requests for a range of voting and voter information from individuals concerned about election integrity.
Adams says state Sen. Adrienne Southworth (R-Lawrenceburg) and others have made the request and then often never pick up the documentation they sought. When contacted about their requests, Adams says some people don’t even know what they want. He says they’ve simply copied a form letter they found on a website run by election denier and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell.
“Basically, what he does is he makes reckless allegations with no basis in fact and directs people who are watching his YouTube program to act on those things,” says Adams. “We’ve gotten a lot of requests that just are total gibberish, that don’t make any sense at all.”
Despite claims of election deniers, Adams says the state is running clean elections. He says only one person was prosecuted for election fraud in the May primaries. He says that individual attempted to vote twice in Boone County, and was later acquitted by a jury there. In primary election recounts requested by candidates, Adams says the two that have been conducted so far confirmed the original vote totals. He contends the requests for information and recounts is likely meant to harass and disrupt the work of election officials.
As a result, Adams says morale among county clerks has suffered. Nine clerks have quit their jobs, according to Adams, and another 14 did not seek reelection this year. He says that Kentucky is fortunate not to have seen election deniers rush to fill those spots. In many of instances, he says, deputy clerks are running to succeed their outgoing clerks.
“These people, if they have the guts to step up after what they’ve seen the last couple of years, God bless them,” he says. “I think they’ll be great.”
Adams himself has endured threats from election deniers, which he says have increased as the November vote approaches. He says one such incident was referred to the FBI. The Republican announced his candidacy for reelection in August, saying that having the wrong person in the job could “do real harm” to the state’s elections. He says he will face an election denier in the GOP primary next year.