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Election Laws and Protecting Voting Rights

Renee Shaw and guests discussed a range of election issues. Guests included Anne Cizmar, a government professor at Eastern Ky. University; law professors Joshua Douglas and Paul Salamanca from the University of Ky. College of Law; and Bruce Hicks, a history and political science professor at the University of the Cumberlands.
Season 25 Episode 29 Length 56:33 Premiere: 08/27/18

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Kentucky Tonight

KET’s Kentucky Tonight, hosted by Renee Shaw, brings together an expert panel for in-depth analysis of major issues facing the Commonwealth.

This weekly program features comprehensive discussions with lawmakers, stakeholders and policy leaders that are moderated by award-winning journalist Renee Shaw.

For nearly three decades, Kentucky Tonight has been a source for complete and balanced coverage of the most urgent and important public affairs developments in the state of Kentucky.

Often aired live, viewers are encouraged to participate by submitting questions in real-time via email, Twitter or KET’s online form. Viewers with questions and comments may send an email to kytonight@ket.org or use the contact form. All messages should include first and last name and town or county. The phone number for viewer calls during the program is 800-494-7605.

After the broadcast, Kentucky Tonight programs are available on KET.org and via podcast (iTunes or Android). Files are normally accessible within 24 hours after the television broadcast.

Kentucky Tonight was awarded a 1997 regional Emmy by the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The series was also honored with a 1995 regional Emmy nomination.

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Renee Shaw is the Director of Public Affairs and Moderator at KET, currently serving as host of KET’s weeknight public affairs program Kentucky Edition, the signature public policy discussion series Kentucky Tonight, the weekly interview series Connections, Election coverage and KET Forums.

Since 2001, Renee has been the producing force behind KET’s legislative coverage that has been recognized by the Kentucky Associated Press and the National Educational Telecommunications Association. Under her leadership, KET has expanded its portfolio of public affairs content to include a daily news and information program, Kentucky Supreme Court coverage, townhall-style forums, and multi-platform program initiatives around issues such as opioid addiction and youth mental health.  

Renee has also earned top awards from the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS), with three regional Emmy awards. In 2023, she was inducted into the Silver Circle of the NATAS, one of the industry’s highest honors recognizing television professionals with distinguished service in broadcast journalism for 25 years or more.  

Already an inductee into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame (2017), Renee expands her hall of fame status with induction into Western Kentucky University’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni in November of 2023.  

In February of 2023, Renee graced the front cover of Kentucky Living magazine with a centerfold story on her 25 years of service at KET and even longer commitment to public media journalism. 

In addition to honors from various educational, civic, and community organizations, Renee has earned top honors from the Associated Press and has twice been recognized by Mental Health America for her years-long dedication to examining issues of mental health and opioid addiction.  

In 2022, she was honored with Women Leading Kentucky’s Governor Martha Layne Collins Leadership Award recognizing her trailblazing path and inspiring dedication to elevating important issues across Kentucky.   

In 2018, she co-produced and moderated a 6-part series on youth mental health that was awarded first place in educational content by NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association. 

She has been honored by the AKA Beta Gamma Omega Chapter with a Coretta Scott King Spirit of Ivy Award; earned the state media award from the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2019; named a Charles W. Anderson Laureate by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet in 2019 honoring her significant contributions in addressing socio-economic issues; and was recognized as a “Kentucky Trailblazer” by the University of Kentucky Martin School of Public Policy and Administration during the Wendell H. Ford Lecture Series in 2019. That same year, Shaw was named by The Kentucky Gazette’s inaugural recognition of the 50 most notable women in Kentucky politics and government.  

Renee was bestowed the 2021 Berea College Service Award and was named “Unapologetic Woman of the Year” in 2021 by the Community Action Council.   

In 2015, she received the Green Dot Award for her coverage of domestic violence, sexual assault & human trafficking. In 2014, Renee was awarded the Anthony Lewis Media Award from the KY Department of Public Advocacy for her work on criminal justice reform. Two Kentucky governors, Republican Ernie Fletcher and Democrat Andy Beshear, have commissioned Renee as a Kentucky Colonel for noteworthy accomplishments and service to community, state, and nation.  

A former adjunct media writing professor at Georgetown College, Renee traveled to Cambodia in 2003 to help train emerging journalists on reporting on critical health issues as part of an exchange program at Western Kentucky University. And, she has enterprised stories for national media outlets, the PBS NewsHour and Public News Service.  

Shaw is a 2007 graduate of Leadership Kentucky, a board member of CASA of Lexington, and a longtime member of the Frankfort/Lexington Chapter of The Links Incorporated, an international, not-for-profit organization of women of color committed to volunteer service. She has served on the boards of the Kentucky Historical Society, Lexington Minority Business Expo, and the Board of Governors for the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. 

Host Renee Shaw smiling in a green dress with a KET set behind her.

Election Laws and Protecting Voting Rights

Election day is a little more than two months away and the campaigns are shifting into high gear for their final pushes toward the voting on November 6.

But amid the speeches, rallies, and political commercials is an undercurrent of concern about low voter turnout and polling integrity.

KET’s Kentucky Tonight discussed a range of election issues with Anne Cizmar, a government professor at Eastern Kentucky University; law professors Joshua Douglas and Paul Salamanca from the University of Kentucky College of Law; and Bruce Hicks, a history and political science professor at the University of the Cumberlands.

 

 

Flexible Registration and Voting Policies
In recent midterm elections, Kentucky has averaged about 48 percent voter turnout. That compares to nearly 60 percent in the last two presidential elections and only 31 percent for the 2015 gubernatorial election.

State election officials across the country have tried a range of tactics to improve voter turnout, including automatic voter registration and allowing people to register on election day. Many states also allow some form of early voting either in person or by mail.

“These reforms really haven’t led to higher turnout, says Bruce Hicks of the University of the Cumberlands. “You’ve got more people voting early, but it’s about the same people who would have voted anyway.”

Hicks says one concern with early voting is what happens to a person who casts his or her ballot early, then a late-breaking development causes them to want to change their vote? Would they be allowed a do-over, or would they be stuck with their existing ballot?

Paul Salamanca of the University of Kentucky says he understands that allowing balloting on only one specific day is inconvenient for many voters. But he says that also makes elections into a national event that Americans across the country share. He contends that having voting open for several weeks would undermine that tradition.

“I could see a compromise, though,” Salamanca says. “In Europe, for example, typically voting takes place over the course of two days and they typically have it on a weekend, which gives people more time to get to the polls. So it’s still a national event.”

More flexible voting and registration processes don’t address deeper problems of voter apathy and disenfranchisement, says Eastern Kentucky University’s Anne Cizmar. But she says they can benefit people who tend to move more frequently and may not have a proper identification with their current address.

“So particularly for younger voters, some of those policies may help them because as they become excited about the election… some of them may want to vote but then they’re not able to do so,” Cizmar says.

Giving 16-Year-Olds the Vote
Another option for drawing more younger people to the polls is to lower the voting age.

“Eighteen is actually a historical accident,” says UK’s Joshua Douglas. “The voting age was 21 when we were founded. [That] really carried over from British colonial times, and that was the age at which men could wear a suit of armor, so we adopted that when we became a country.”

The nation’s voting age wasn’t lowered to 18 until 1971, during the height of the Vietnam War. Douglas argues that American states already grant many rights to 16-year olds, including driving, sexual consent, and working, so why not add voting to that list. He says several cities in Maryland have lowered the voting age in local elections to 16 years old.

So far, turnout among those younger voters in those communities has been double that of turnout rates for those 18 to 24 years old, according to Douglas. The hope, he says, is that allowing younger people to vote will increase the likelihood that they will continue to actively participate in elections as the get older.

While Douglas believes 16 year olds with sufficient civics training are mature enough to vote, Salamanca isn’t so sure. He contends that voting is not just a right but a social trust among Americans that can result in laws and tax policies being changed.

“I think we need to be careful with this particular trust,” says Salamanca, “that we assign it to people who are conscious of the fact they are not only acting on their own behalf but they’re acting on behalf of other people,”

Gerrymandering
Recent court cases have challenged the drawing of electoral districts in several states, alleging the lines were drawn to benefit one party over another. On Monday a federal court ruled that Republican lawmakers in North Carolina illegally set congressional district boundaries in that state. The three-judge panel indicated that the current gerrymandered districts may need to be redrawn before the November elections.

“What’s interesting here is the North Carolina Republicans actually admitted that they were drawing the lines to have a partisan effect,” says Douglas. “The problem under the law has been there’s no judicial standard where a court can test whether politics goes too far in the line-drawing process.”

Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court avoided direct rulings on gerrymandering cases from Wisconsin and Maryland, delaying the issue for a later court term. Hicks says the Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that it has the constitutional authority to examine how districts are drawn. He says their challenge is to determine when partisanship played an improper role in redistricting.

“It’s been 32 years and the court has struggled to come up with a standard,” says Hicks. “They’ve yet to come up with a standard that they feel is reliable.”

In 37 states including Kentucky, legislatures are responsible for redistricting. Cizmar says that contributes to partisan boundaries.

“You’re allowing the elected officials to choose their electorate rather than allowing the electorate to choose their elected officials,” says Cizmar. “So in that way it’s not really what we would hope for in terms of free and fair elections.”

A few states have moved to independent redistricting commissions, and Douglas says five states have ballot measures this year to create similar bodies. He agrees with Cizmar that politicians shouldn’t be allowed to choose their own voters.

“Even independent redistricting commissions aren’t going to take away all politics out of the process,” Douglas says. “But what we’ve seen in states that have independent redistricting commissions is that the maps are fairer than when the politicians themselves draw the lines.”

Salamanca opposes the idea of independent commissions because he says that takes redistricting authority away from elected officials and gives it to individuals who were not elected by anyone and may not acknowledge the biases that they bring to the process.

“An independent commission sounds great, but independent commissions have a tendency in the United States to be left of center,” says Salamanca. “So people of a conservative bent ordinarily do and should oppose independent commissions.”

Salamanca admits politicians may do a bad job at redistricting. If they do, he says voters have the opportunity to defeat them in the next election. But Douglas says it’s not that simple.

“You can’t throw them out because they’re crafting districts specifically to keep themselves in power,” says Douglas.

Voter ID Laws
The panel generally agrees that there is no wide-scale voter fraud in presidential or statewide elections, however there are occasional instances of vote buying and absentee ballot fraud in local elections. More than 30 states have some form of voter identification laws to address voter fraud. But Douglas contends tougher ID standards only help prevent people impersonating someone else at the polls, which he contends is infrequent and ineffective.

“It’s just stupid,” says Douglas. “If you want to rig an election, you’re not going to do it by getting people to go to the polls and pretend to be someone else. You’re going to find a way that actually would work and have a less likely chance getting caught.”

Voter ID laws may also result in some people being disenfranchised. Cizmar says younger voters who move a lot, or city dwellers who don’t drive and therefore don’t need a driver’s license, may find it harder to meet stricter identification standards. She says the laws may also hamper female voters.

“Because women are more likely to change their names… when they get married or go through different life steps, so as a result their voter registration may not be current,” Cizmar says. “So some women were being turned away from the polls just because their last name had changed.”

Salamanca agrees that voting fraud protections should be crafted so as to not disenfranchise anyone.

“I think it’s just as wrong for someone to vote twice as not to be able to vote at all,” says Salamanca. “We need to make sure that everyone has his or her vote and not more than one.”

Campaign Financing
The influence of money on politics continues to perplex the American democratic process. Salamanca says he doubts reform advocates will ever succeed in overturning Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that struck down limits on campaign contributions by corporations and other organizations. He says it’s ironic that looser financing rules actually started among liberals who wanted unions to be more politically active, but the issue has since been taken over by what he describes as the libertarian right.

Even if campaign spending could be regulated, Hicks says the devil would be in the details.

“When you talk about limiting spending you are limiting speech,” says Hicks. “How do you regulate that? What level of spending is acceptable? Somebody would have to make those decisions.”

In the absence of limits, Cizmar says she wants to see greater disclosure requirements so voters can know exactly who gives to each candidate and how much. Douglas says he supports public financing of political campaigns, which he says would level the playing field and remove the advantages that wealthy donors have.

He says the city of Seattle is experimenting with a “Democracy Voucher” program that gives local voters $100 in vouchers they can then contribute to the candidate of their choice running for city office. In return for accepting this public financing (paid for through property taxes), Douglas says the candidates pledge to not take any party or political action committee funding, and they agree to participate in a set number of public debates.

Seattle first used the voucher system in 2017 municipal elections, and Douglas says the experiment worked well. It will be available again in the 2019 election cycle.

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Season 25 Episodes

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S25 E36 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/29/18

3rd, 4th and 5th Congressional District Candidates

S25 E35 Length 54:03 Premiere Date 10/22/18

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Energy and the Environment

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Sports Betting

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Election Laws and Protecting Voting Rights

S25 E29 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 08/27/18

School Safety

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Education Policy Issues

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5th Congressional District Primary Candidates

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Finding Compromise in the State Budget

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Public Pension Reform

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National and State Politics

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Federal Tax Reform

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Policy Debate Over Pensions

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