Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Secretary Grimes' Fight for Military Voters Heads to House

The state Senate voted 37-0 to approve Senate Bill 1, which is based on Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ recommendations to protect military and overseas citizens’ voting rights.

The version of the bill passed by the Senate would allow military and overseas citizens to register to vote and update their registration online, ensure that military and overseas voters have sufficient time to vote in special elections and extend existing protections to state and local elections and National Guard members.

But the bill as passed does not address delays caused by the requirement that military and overseas voters return their ballots via mail. In the 2012 General Election, nearly 10 percent – more than 300 – of the military and overseas ballots that were returned could not be counted for various reasons, including that they were received after 6 p.m. on Election Day or lacked postmarks.

Kentucky law already permits military and overseas voters to apply for and receive absentee ballots by mail, email or fax. Provisions that were stricken from the original bill by amendment would have allowed military and overseas voters to also return executed ballots via electronic means and, under certain circumstances, for ballots received after the polls have closed to be counted. 

“The problems that have silenced military and overseas voters could effectively be eliminated if SB1 was passed in its original form,” said Grimes. The current system, said Senator Kathy Stein (D-Lexington), “lets down military personnel.”

As Sen. Tom Buford (R-Nicholasville), said, the electronic return of military and overseas ballots via electronic means is not a new idea, “we’ve just failed to take action.” Senator Jerry Rhoads (D-Madisonville) told the body, “The time is now to give our military a fighting chance to return their ballots on time.” 24 states currently permit military and overseas voters to return ballots via email or the Internet, and 19 states allow ballots to be counted even if they are received after the close of the polls.

Senators Stan Humphries (R-Cadiz) and Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville) acknowledged Senate Bill 1, as passed, leaves work to be done. Many others expressed hope that a stronger bill, with the stricken provisions restored, will come back to the Senate from the House.

“I will continue to fight to fully protect Kentucky’s military and overseas citizens’ right to vote,” said Grimes. “I hope the House will join me in that fight and take measures to strengthen the bill. Our military stands up for us, and they deserve to have us stand up for them.”