FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky voters concerned about being at risk of contracting COVID-19 will be able to cast mail-in ballots under a bipartisan agreement reached by the state's governor and secretary of state.
Rules for the November general election also include three weeks of in-person early voting, including Saturdays, to prevent a crush of Election Day voting, according to the plan unveiled Friday by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams.
“It shows that Democrats and Republicans can still agree on something,” the governor said at their joint press conference.
Beshear signed an executive order outlining procedures in the agreement, which he said was “easy to reach” with the state’s chief election officer.
Adams recently offered a preliminary plan to Beshear, and the governor praised him for “putting ideology on the shelf” in reaching a deal he said focuses on protecting health and access to voting.
State officials are preparing for a large turnout for the high-stakes November election. Kentuckians will be making their choices for president and a hotly contested U.S. Senate race as well as congressional and state legislative races.
The election plan stops short of the no-excuse absentee voting by mail for all voters as in the state's June primary. But it still gives Kentuckians wide latitude in requesting absentee ballots.
It allows Kentuckians of any age or health condition who believe they're at risk from COVID-19 to vote by mail-in absentee balloting. That eligibility to vote absentee also applies to people in contact with others who are especially vulnerable to the virus.
“We're not going to encourage everyone to vote by absentee ballot the way we did previously," Adams said, pointing to concerns about overloading the postal system and county clerks' offices. “That doesn't mean that we don't want people voting absentee. We do. We encourage them to do that if they are at risk."
An online portal expected to launch within the week will allow people to request a ballot by mail. Ballots can be requested via the portal through Oct. 9 and through traditional means afterward.
Mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, on Nov. 3, and received by Nov. 6. Drop boxes will be available for Kentuckians to return their mail ballots if they are concerned about postal delays.
Another key part of the plan is extended early in-person voting. It will begin statewide on Oct. 13. It will be offered every work day up to Election Day, as well as every Saturday for at least four hours. Each county clerk will provide the location.
On Election Day, each county will offer at least one voting super center, which will allow voting from any county voter, regardless of their precinct. Fewer voting locations will be open because of the pandemic, Adams said, adding that he wants as many open as possible.
In the primary, some counties “overly reduced" their polling locations, and steps have been taken in the new agreement to avoid that in November, Adams said.
Counties can still reduce their voting locations based on the lack of available sites or a shortage of poll workers caused by the virus, he said. But this time, those decisions will be subject to approval by the governor and the secretary of state.
Steps also were taken to encourage a faster counting of ballots in November. It's an attempt to avoid a repeat of the June primary, when final results for many races — including a closely watched Democratic U.S. Senate primary — weren't known until a week after the primary.
“This time, we're explicitly requiring all the counties to report all their votes received on election night," Adams said.
Adams predicted that the vast majority of votes will be in by election night, including all the in-person early voting and most of the absentee votes.