FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky’s new secretary of state formed a quick alliance with Senate Republicans on Wednesday in pushing for a bill to require that people present official photo identification to vote in elections.
Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican who took office this week, said the bill reflects his agenda of strengthening election security and enhancing public confidence in the election process.
Adams is the first Republican in nearly a decade to serve as the state’s chief election official. And the move comes a couple of months after Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear narrowly won the gubernatorial race.
The measure, introduced Tuesday on the opening day of this year’s legislative session, drew immediate pushback from a civil liberties group arguing it would make it harder for many people to vote, including the disabled, minorities and elderly.
“There is no evidence that in-person voting fraud is a problem in Kentucky,” said Corey Shapiro, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.
In a review during last year’s campaign, Adams said Wednesday that he found 22 instances of people going to prison for election fraud in Kentucky between 2006 and 2014. But he also acknowledged that none of the cases dealt with voter impersonation.
Still, the lack of a state law requiring photo identification as a condition to vote is a flaw that needs to be fixed, the bill’s supporters said.
“We have a gap here and this is one of the simple steps that we can take immediately to close this gap,” said Republican Sen. Robby Mills of Henderson, the bill’s lead sponsor.
Seven states currently have strict photo ID laws in effect, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The bill number attached to Mills’ proposal — Senate Bill 2 — is an indication that the measure is a priority of Republican leadership in the GOP-dominated Senate.
Beshear told reporters he hasn’t had a chance to fully review the measure. The Democratic governor said policymakers should make it easier, not harder, for people to vote.
“I just want to make sure that there aren’t unnecessary roadblocks toward voting,” Beshear said Wednesday.
Republicans hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate, giving them considerable leverage in overriding any potential vetoes by Beshear.
Last month, Beshear signed an executive order to restore voting rights for more than 140,000 nonviolent offenders who have completed their sentences.
The bill’s supporters noted that a photo ID already is required for many other transactions, including opening a bank account, cashing a check or picking up sports tickets at will-call.
Adams praised the bill’s sponsors for “bending over backwards” to make the measure fair and reasonable. The bill would allow adults to obtain a no-fee, standard personal ID card if they don’t have a valid driver’s license, Mills noted. That card could be used by eligible voters.
Shapiro countered that the alternate IDs would be costly for the state to create.
Adams estimated the cost to the state could be in “the low six figures.” Adams, who succeeded a Democrat in the secretary of state’s office, campaigned in support of a photo ID law for voting.
College and military photo IDs also could be used to gain access to the voting booth.
The bill also would allow Kentuckians to vote without a photo ID if they provide an affidavit showing a “reasonable impediment” to getting a photo ID.
Shapiro said the bill was the wrong approach to dealing with Kentucky’s “restrictive” voting policies.
“If the Senate truly cared about improving our democratic processes, they would make it easier to vote by increasing access to the polls by creating vote-by-mail, expanding the hours polls are open,” he said in a statement.
If it becomes law, the measure would take effect in this year’s November election , when President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are expected to be atop the ballot in Kentucky. Adams said he didn’t want to have it pushed into effect for the May primary election.
“I want enough time to put the public on notice of this new requirement,” Adams said.
Bruce Schreiner, The Associated Press