The Richmond Register

June 21, 2013

Grimes attends town hall meeting on voting reform

Seth Littrell
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes visited Madison County on Thursday night to speak with county residents about state election reform.

Grimes, along with County Clerk Kenny Barger and Powell County Clerk Rhonda Barnett, hosted the town-hall style meeting that drew more than 50 people from Madison and nearby counties.

Several elected officials from the area also attended, including state Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, Madison Judge/Executive Kent Clark and County Attorney Marc Robbins.

The meeting’s main topics were early voting and absentee voting without an excuse.

In Kentucky, an absentee ballot may be cast only if extenuating circumstances will keep a voter from the polls on election day. Those most often include illness, physical disability, military service and out-of-state travel.

However, 32 states, as well as the District of Columbia, allowing early voting without an excuse.

Cecile Schubert, of Richmond, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky and a retired teacher, said early voting was something the state should look at seriously.

“For a lot of us, that would be a very applicable thing to do,” Schubert said. “Some of us get out of town and forget (to vote.)”

In the last general election, 1,994 absentee ballots were cast in Madison County, according to Barger.

Absentee ballots are submitted on paper and must reach the county clerk’s office before 6 p.m. on election day to be counted.

“Over 300 military and overseas ballots this year in our general election were not able to be counted,” Grimes said.

Barger said he was in favor of finding a way to allow online voting, which he believes would increase voter turnout.

“A lot of folks are afraid when you say ‘online voting.’ They think those two things can’t go together,” he said. “Well, they can, but it’s got to be handled properly.”

Grimes also brought up the issue of online voter registration. Barger said registration in Madison County is done primarily by filling out a paper form, but he believes registration can be made easier.

“It’s time that we start to embrace some of this change (such as online registration and voting),” Barger said. “It will open up voting to more people, to those people that don’t want to bother standing in line. That puts a barrier between folks and their right to vote with the process we use.”

A member of the audience said early registration would be helpful to Kentucky students who attend college outside of the counties where they are registered to vote.

A state constitutional amendment to allow convicted felons who have served their sentences to regain their voting rights also was discussed. Smart said she has been asked to work on the issue.

“Many young people are now felons because of trouble they have gotten into with drugs,” she said. “But once they have gone through a rehabilitation program, like Chrysalis House or Liberty Place, they become productive citizens.”

Smart suggested creating a state bill allowing felons with drug convictions who have gone through appropriate rehabilitation programs to regain their voting rights.

Many of those present expressed support for such legislation.

Seth Littrell can be reached at slittrell@

richmondregister.com

or 624-6623.