New report finds some Kentucky voting practices of concern

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  • Dale Eisman

Mary Boyle, Common Cause, (202) 736-5770

Tim Rusch, Demos, (212) 389-1407

Lack of laws preventing voter suppression tactics and disenfranchisement of ex-felons cited as problematic

Washington, DC – A new report finds that Kentucky voter registration laws and practices, including a draconian law requiring ex-felons to ask the governor for a pardon before their voting rights can be restored, and the state’s lack of laws preventing voter suppression tactics, present barriers to full voter participation.

The report, “Voting in 2010: Ten Swing States,” examines Kentucky election laws and policies and highlights the impact they could have on voter participation in the upcoming mid-term elections. Because Kentucky’s ballot features a hotly contested Senate race, voter participation rates could have a game-changing impact on election results. The report was produced by national policy centers and election watchdogs Common Cause and Demos. The report also reviews voting laws and policies in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.

“While Kentucky actually has many excellent voting procedures, its worst in the country law regarding voters with prior felony convictions overshadows everything else,” said Tova Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos and author of the report. “It is unfathomable that 6 percent of Kentucky citizens, disproportionately African Americans, are barred from voting because of this extreme law.”

“Kentucky has a model law that protects voters from intimidating and frivolous challenges, and also protects the privacy and security of overseas and military ballots by disallowing internet voting” said Susannah Goodman, Director of the Election Reform Program at Common Cause and co-author of the report. “But other aspects of state voting policy could be improved.”

The report examines potential problem areas including voter registration, ID issues — which can present burdens to those who don’t hold traditional identification such as a driver’s license — provisional ballots, voter suppression and deception tactics, caging and challenge laws, voting by overseas and military voters, and challenges for new citizens and ethnic minorities. A summary chart evaluates each state’s practices, and a set of recommendations is offered for improvement of these voting procedures.

For Kentucky, the report found a number of notable obstacles to full voter participation.

Citizens must register 28 days prior to the election, long before many people become aware that an election is upcoming.

Elections will once again be marred by the state’s extremely restrictive felon disenfranchisement rules. Nearly six percent of Kentucky’s population and roughly 24 percent of its African-American population is disenfranchised under this law. Ex-felons can regain their right to vote by way of an executive pardon issued by the Governor, which is considered on an individual basis. Though people with misdemeanor convictions are allowed to vote, more than half of county clerks participating in a survey believed otherwise.

The absence of a direct law regarding dissemination of misinformation about the electoral process makes it vulnerable to both traditional and online vote suppression mischief.

Provisional ballots are not counted if cast in the wrong precinct, potentially taking the vote away from many eligible voters.

On the positive side, the report found some exemplary voting laws and procedures which other states would do well to emulate.

Kentucky has the best voter “challenge” law among the states under review. Only designated challengers and election officials who undergo specific training can challenge a voter’s right to cast a ballot. A challenged voter will be permitted to vote after signing an oath attesting to her/his qualifications.

Kentucky does not jeopardize the privacy and security of overseas and military voters by accepting ballots cast by fax, e-mail, or over the Internet.

Click here for the full report, executive summary and other swing state information.