It only took a couple of centuries to break with tradition, but Kentuckians no longer have to complete a paper form at their county clerk’s office to be registered to vote.
Now they can simply go to GoVoteKY.com on their computer, tablet, or smartphone.
“Unfortunately, our elections move at the speed of paper,” jokes Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. “That’s the reason why this online portal for voter registration is huge, because we are trying to take the paper out of the process, to allow folks not only the convenience that they demand but to remove the possibility for human error that exists with paper.”
Grimes appeared on KET’s Connections with Renee Shaw to explain the new registration system and discuss other voting issues.
GoVoteKY.com allows individuals to register to vote or to amend a registration to update voter information or party affiliation. Grimes says the primary difference between the website and the paper form, which will still be available at county clerks’ offices, is that online users must enter their Social Security number to verify their identities. She says Kentucky is the 31st state to employ online registration.
This week, Grimes will complete a tour of college campuses around the state to promote the portal and to encourage students to register to vote so they can participate in this year’s elections. She says turnout for the gubernatorial election last November was only 30 percent of registered voters. The secretary says she hopes the website will help improve statewide turnout.
“Our democracy, I believe, is truly at its best when everybody participates, and we have got to take measures to increase our participation,” Grimes says. “This is the first step, making it easy for people to register.”
A Push for Early Voting
The second step, according to Grimes, is to allow for early voting. She endorsed a bill in the just-completed legislative session that would have allowed people to go to their county clerk’s office to vote anytime within 12 days of an election. In essence, it would be like casting an absentee ballot, but without the need for an excuse. Grimes says early voting gives individuals with family obligations or long work shifts greater flexibility to participate in the democratic process.
House Bill 290, sponsored by Rep. Reggie Meeks (D-Louisville), passed the lower chamber, 57-37, but then died in the Senate. Grimes says the Kentucky County Clerks Association opposed the measure because they feared it would create extra work for their staffs. The secretary says spreading the balloting out over 12 days would prevent a crush of voters at any one time, and she says most clerks’ offices are already open on Saturdays. Grimes says she wouldn’t have endorsed the legislation if it resulted in an unfunded mandate on the clerks.
“The hope is that our clerks will realize [that] increasing participation in this election… is well worth any added additional costs,” Grimes says. “If we are going to increase participation in this state, we have to give Kentuckians a fighting chance to actually make it to polls.”
Online voting is another option that is being considered by some election officials, but Grimes doesn’t see that becoming a widespread reality any time soon. Before she completes her second term, the secretary does hope to allow military personnel and other Kentuckians stationed overseas to return their absentee ballots electronically.
Voting Rights for Former Felons
Another issue of keen interest to Grimes is the restoration of voting rights for non-violent felons who have completed their sentences. House Bill 70, sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens (D-Louisville), and Senate Bill 299, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester), proposed different processes for restoring those rights, but both measures failed to reach final passage this session.
“At the core of this are over 100,000 individuals across the commonwealth who have made a mistake in their past, they’ve paid their debt to society, [and] they shouldn’t be sentenced to a lifetime of silence,” Grimes says. “They should be able to participate in our democracy.”
The secretary, who is a Democrat, applauds the passage of a bill to allow individuals convicted of certain non-violent, Class D felonies to have their records expunged. That law requires individuals to wait five years after the completion of their sentence and probation before they can apply to the courts to have their original sentence vacated.
Grimes says she hopes the restoration of voting rights could occur automatically once a non-violent felon has fulfilled the terms of his or her punishment. She says she sees the issue as a matter of empathy, and says she will continue to support voting rights restoration for a wider range of former felons in future sessions.