FRANKFORT, Ky. – Secretary of State-Elect Michael Adams has big plans for the next four years.
The Republican addressed the Interim Joint Committee on State Government Thursday with what he plans to with elections, the office and more. Adams said first and foremost he wants to restore public confidence and integrity into the secretary of state’s office.
“I’m going to govern with integrity and I’m going to demand the highest level of integrity for everyone that works for me,” Adams said. “One of the first things I’m going to do when I take office, and hopefully before, is to assess what structural changes if necessary we should implement to ensure those sort of allegations that you have seen directed at this office and the people in this office don’t happen on my watch and hopefully don’t happen again.”
Adams also spent time discussing what policies he would like to see implemented to make voting easier in Kentucky one of those was restoring voting rights to convicted felons through a constitutional amendment.
“I think the right way to do it is not through an executive order from the governor’s office but rather put in our constitution,” Adams said. “I think its number one the right answer but number two a great way for me and all of you to show our voters we are not trying to tip the board when are trying to pass photo ID and other reforms from the conservative side. This is not an ideological issue from my perspective.”
Governor-Elect Andy Beshear has said he will be signing an executive order during his first week in office to restore the voting rights of felons. Depending on how that order is worded lawmakers, however, could need to pass a constitutional amendment to make sure going forward those who have served their time will have their civil rights restored. Senate Floor Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he is hoping to the idea with some restrictions.
“I can support such a constitutional amendment if there is a reasonable waiting period, we have a recidivism rate, I think the last time I checked with Justice Cabinet it was about 33-35 percent people recommit those crimes within three years,” said Thayer. “The crimes where you can have your rights restore should be limited to certain crimes.”
Two bills are currently prefiled to restore voting rights to felons.
Adams also asked lawmakers to help him get a photo ID law passed which Thayer said he had already been working on a bill for the upcoming session with Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson.
“One of the key components is government pay for ID’s, like an indigent ID, for those who may not be able to have an ID of any sort that seems to be the key sticking point in the constitutionality of this bills in other states,” Thayer said. “Senator Mills and I intend to include that in the bill and then work with Senator McDaniel to include the funding in the budget, it would probably be $250,000-$300,000 annually.”
Adams says having that provision in any photo ID law is crucial.
“I sincerely believe for two reasons that need to be in there, one because it’s humane and the other because I want a version that will pass court muster,” Adams said. “I simply don’t think a version of photo ID without this component would be constitutional.”
Adams also promised lawmakers he would work quickly to begin to clean up the voter rolls in Kentucky. Adams expressed urgency to have the rolls cleaned up before what will likely be a highly watched 2020 election.
“I don’t want to go into this election without a photo ID law and without cleaning up our voter rolls. This is a problem we’ve known about and just haven’t adequately addressed; I think the only way to get this done is to work out a deal in court.” Adams said. “I don’t want suppression, I don’t want an over the top voter purge but I want to follow the law.”
Adams says it will take working with the courts to get this done—since a federal consent decree is telling the state they must clean up the rolls while a state court is saying the State Board of Elections ruled in October to remove voters from an “inactive” voter list.
Some lawmakers were interested in making voting easier for Kentuckians who may work long hours by expanding early voting opportunities for a broader group of people.
“There are many people who are effectively disenfranchised unless they want to lie when they go for early voting or absentee,” said Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville. “I think we ought to expand the ability to vote early.”
Adams said he is supportive of changing some early voting requirements but hesitates to go too far citing costs and inconvenience to county clerks.
“Once you open the door of unlimited early voting you can never close it so it becomes a fixed cost over time,” Adams said. “Obviously the counties currently are not even getting the money they are required to get under state law for voter registration and election costs, the statute providing that formula is routinely suspended, so the counties are tight with money, have to be tight on their money, so I think this is a mandate that if unfunded would be a problem for them.”
Adams also expressed concern over the struggle to find poll workers in Kentucky.