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WKYT Investigates | The future of voting

Some changes for Kentucky’s 2020 elections could become permanent.
Published: Dec. 14, 2020 at 2:49 PM EST
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - As presidential electors met Monday to finalize state results of the 2020 election, some officials in Kentucky are also looking ahead to 2021 and beyond.

Voters saw many changes in Kentucky’s elections this year, and when the General Assembly gavels into session in January, state leaders hope to make some of those changes permanent.

Among the changes that could carry forward:

  • in-person early voting
  • “vote centers” where any eligible voter in the county can vote
  • the online request portal for absentee ballots
  • signature curing

The ballot “curing” process in place for the general election, along with better education about casting absentee ballots, led to thousands more voters’ ballots able to be counted in November compared to the primary.

In the June primary election, more than 30,000 absentee ballots were rejected - for a variety of reasons - across Kentucky, according to compiled numbers from the secretary of state’s office. The most absentee ballots were rejected in the primary because of missing signatures.

But that number dropped below 2,500 in the general election, according to the state board of elections.

“Clerks have been curing ballots for a long time now,” said Jared Dearing, executive director of the Kentucky State Board of Elections. “Clerks will oftentimes call members of the community, say, ‘Hey, we received your absentee ballot back. It looks like you sent it back with some irregularities, can you come back in and fix that so we can make sure your vote counted?’ What was new was the ability for the entire state to have a normalized process.”

The emergency regulation laying out the election plan lists which ballot irregularities could be cured, and what still had to be rejected:

  1. Missing outside signature - DON’T REJECT automatically. If there is an inside signature there is at least one signature for review that will meet substantial compliance.
  2. Missing signature on flap - DON’T REJECT automatically. If there was an outside signature there is at least one signature for review that will meet substantial compliance.
  3. Missing outside signature - DON’T REJECT automatically, but if the inside flap is missing the signature then REJECT IT.
  4. Signature on outside but missing inside flap - REJECT IT.
  5. If there is a signature that can be matched, but flap is missing - REJECT IT.
  6. Inner envelope not sealed but all the components are present and doesn’t appear tampered with - ACCEPT IT.
  7. Detached flap: If it isn’t attached but is either inside the white envelope or even inside the yellow envelope it will meet substantial compliance - ACCEPT IT.
  8. The Inner Envelope is missing and the ballot is just in the white envelope - REJECT IT.
  9. Returned or dropped off in just the inner envelope with flap attached and signature present - ACCEPT IT.
  10. Returned in an unofficial outside envelope, if inside envelope, flap and signature are present - ACCEPT IT; if no signature on flap - REJECT IT.
  11. A signature is present, but in wrong location - ACCEPT IT.

About 4,000 voters were contacted about curing their ballots, the state board of elections told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer. More than 1,500 were able to fix the issue.

“Under normal circumstances, when someone votes in person we do that same thing,” Dearing said. “Voters often spoil ballots, they made a mistake, they go back and say, ‘Hey, can I get a new ballot?’ They destroy the other one, and let them cast a new ballot and that’s what they use. This is a similar process, but for the mail-in process.”

Dearing says not only that, but the cure process also serves as an additional security mechanism by having clerks follow up with voters whose ballots have mismatches or other signature issues. (He says this year there were no known issues of someone saying a ballot cast in their name was not theirs.)

Secretary of State Michael Adams has said he supports making the process one part of permanent election reform. And, he says, many county clerks across Kentucky agree with those proposals. According to a survey from his office:

  • 79% want to keep in-person early voting
  • 92% support keeping “vote centers” (centralized locations where any county resident can vote) if on a voluntary basis by county, and 63% support vote centers being required
  • 70% favor keeping a signature cure process for absentee ballots
  • 89% support keeping the absentee ballot request portal

Do not expect no-excuse absentee voting moving forward. Kentucky law requires an excuse to vote absentee, and lawmakers and state leaders as a whole are not pushing for an expansion of that. (Elections officials do say, however, that they expect more eligible absentee voters to take advantage of the process that is available to them now that they have seen how it works.)

Several elections-related bills have been pre-filed in Frankfort ahead of the 2021 General Assembly’s regular session.

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