Frankfort, Ky. (November 10, 2022) — Secretary of State Michael Adams provided the following testimony today to the General Assembly’s Legislative Oversight and Investigations Committee, calling for expanded voting locations and an end to frivolous recounts:
It’s a pleasure to be with you and speak to Kentucky’s successful 2022 general election. First, let me say thank you for your legislation earlier this year to fully fund our elections, to further expand voter access, and to further tighten election security.
The busy, but smooth, election process we enjoyed was not a given. It was not even expected. We prepared for much worse. Pulling this off is a testimony to the hard work of our county clerks, and state and local boards of elections and their staffs, and the amazing commitment of our selfless volunteer poll workers.
Two months ago, the situation looked bleak. Our clerks were besieged by numerous and voluminous open records requests – not good-faith efforts to view public records, but rather labor-intensive demands strategically aimed at disrupting their preparation for the general election. Some of the clerks were also sued by candidates who lost by wide margins in the primary, but demanded recounts nonetheless. I don’t think it’s an accident that a county that had to do a primary election recount, on October 21, ended up being the county with the longest lines on election day. This abuse of process places real strains on our election infrastructure, including our human resources. In 2020, a year that was hell on earth for election officials, only 2 clerks quit; this year, 9 quit, even though their terms ended later this year. Another 14 chose not to run for reelection.
To be sure, our expansion of voting access – for which Kentucky continues to receive national praise – makes the clerks’ job harder; but clearly the abuse is a factor in resignations and retirements. Fortunately, our departing clerks are not being replaced by kooks and cranks; deputy clerks and election directors are stepping up to serve. Every person who stood for appointment or election as a county clerk should be thanked, and applauded.
Although we avoided disruption of this election – something we used to be able to take for granted – our process can always be improved. I’d like to give you my takeaways, as well as some suggestions for your consideration.
First, the good guys won. The malefactors who spread misinformation about our process for counting votes were debunked by election officials, then rebuked by the public. Our voters embraced our election process, including the changes we’ve made since 2019. Every vote cast in this big-turnout election is a vote of confidence in our election laws, and election officials.
Next, early voting works. At my request, you acted in bipartisan fashion to enact it, and over a quarter-million voters took advantage of it. I’ll note that the turnout for early voting correlated pretty closely with the partisan affiliation of our voters – Republicans with a little less than 50%, then Democrats close behind, then Independents. In other words, early voting is not a partisan issue. There is no Republican or Democratic way to vote. Early voting doesn’t favor a side; it just helps the voters. It doesn’t just help the voters who vote early. It also helps the voters who don’t. Our lines would have been even longer on Tuesday had voters not already had 3 days to vote.
Although I’m proud of early voting, the solution to long lines is not to add more voting days, at least not in a non-presidential election year. More than four times as many voters voted Tuesday as voted in the 3 early voting days combined. The lesson here is that, in 2023, in order to reduce lines, we need more voting locations, not more voting days.
There are two ways to accomplish this. One would be to do what we did in 2020, via emergency powers that you granted: we gave the counties flexibility to consolidate voting locations, but they had to get the approval of the Governor and me. I think it is important that someone politically accountable – whether it’s the Governor, me, both of us, or some other statewide constitutional officer – review and approve a local election plan that reduces voting locations.
The other approach would be to develop a statutory formula to set a floor for how many voting locations a county needs for early voting and election day. I don’t know offhand what that formula should be. It might need to be different in one county than another, because some counties’ voters use early voting more than other counties’ voters. It’s complicated, but I think it’s doable. I’m neutral over which approach you prefer, but we must do something to prevent long lines in the future.
Also, we need to support our county clerks and stop recount abuse. Our recount law is fairly new. It was presented last year by Speaker Osborne and Leader Jenkins, who worked together in bipartisan fashion to develop a clear and workable process. They did not foresee that the process would be misused by bad-faith actors, who seek to create unwarranted doubt in the integrity of our elections. Ironically, this measure became law in the same bill that closed the loophole that had allowed bad-faith actors to demand a recanvass even if they lost by a landslide. We should close the same loophole on recounts, which are far more taxing on our election officials than recanvasses. We have a separate law that permits an election challenge upon an allegation of fraud, corruption, or even administrative error, and any person with evidence of same will not lose the right to contest an election; but, the frivolous lawsuits by people who lack evidence of fraud, corruption, or administrative error, and lose by a wide margin, must be stopped.
I have other suggestions too, and have already begun conversations with the county clerks, the State Board of Elections staff, and legislators from both parties. Like Speaker Osborne and Leader Jenkins, I hope that we can work together, in good faith and across the aisle, to improve our elections even more than we already have. In Kentucky, unlike other places, our losing candidates this week are not falsely alleging suppression or fraud, and our voters are not falling for misinformation about the security of our process and staying home. I’m convinced that is because we are doing this the right way, and that leads to confidence in me, in you, in our government, and in our elections. Thank you very much.