LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- With COVID-19 concerns lingering, Kentucky's 3.4 million registered voters will be able to vote by mail in the June 23 elections under a deal between Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams.
The agreement addresses primary and local option elections, as well as a special contest for the Kentucky State Senate's 26th District seat that was vacated by the recent retirement of Sen. Ernie Harris.
Beshear outlined the new process in an executive order issued Friday, a day after recommendations from Adams. The Kentucky State Board of Elections discussed the details of proposed regulations at a meeting Friday.
Jared Dearing, the board executive director, said state elections officials encourage as many people as possible to vote early by mail.
"It'll help keep Kentuckians safe. It'll help keep their families safe. It'll help keep poll workers and administrators safe -- and I think that's the one thing we really want to emphasize here," he said.
In a sweeping change in response to the pandemic, all voters will be able to cast absentee ballots by mail without having to justify why they aren't voting in person. Kentucky typically permits people to vote by mail or before an election day in limited circumstances.
During the elections board meeting, member Ben Chandler reiterated that Kentuckians eligible to vote will be able to vote remotely without providing an excuse.
"That excuse is essentially being provided by the medical emergency that we've got statewide relative to this pandemic," Chandler said.
In another departure, the state elections board will direct county elections officials to reduce the number of in-person sites for the June 23 election. However, county clerks will expand early in-person absentee voting to include June 8-13; June 15-20; and June 22 and prioritize voting by appointment.
The elections board will notify voters about the new procedures via postcard. Voters then would have to apply for an absentee ballot on a state website or by calling their local county clerk.
Ballots will be mailed once each voter's county clerk approves the application. Voters would fill out their ballots and mail them back to their county clerk.
Absentee ballots must be requested by June 15; after that, voters must contact their county clerks for a ballot.
Dearing said that deadline will allow voters to receive ballots in time to fill them out and return them before the election. However, people can still request an absentee ballot after June 15, but "it just can't be mailed to them at that point."
Voters then would have to pick it their ballots outside a clerk's office or through a drive-through window, he said.
As COVID-19 cases climbed in Kentucky in March, Adams signed an executive order postponing the May 19 elections, which include presidential primaries and the race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Other states also postponed primaries. Perhaps most notably, Wisconsin went ahead with in-person voting on April 7 -- an election day marked by images of socially distanced voters wearing masks to the polls.
Beshear said in a statement that his order is meant to let Kentucky's upcoming elections proceed safely.
"While there will be significant education and work required, we are committed to making sure this election will be held in a safe manner while we are in this worldwide health pandemic," he said.
In his own prepared statement, Adams said that his work with the governor will help ensure a "successful and safe election."
"Voters across the political spectrum will be pleased with this plan to protect both democracy and public health," he said.
Adams said in a press release that the approach has "ballot integrity built in." County clerks, for example, will match signatures from voters' absentee ballot envelopes with their previous signatures on records and give voters whose signatures don't match "an opportunity to cure the mismatch."
He also noted that registered voters who have moved out of state will be contacted and asked to remove them from voting rolls. That will allow the state to "more expeditiously clean up its voter rolls," Adams said.
The photo ID law passed by the Kentucky General Assembly won't apply to the June election.
The goal for counting all ballots is June 30.
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