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Kentucky's bipartisan election reforms draw praise from Senate Panel

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Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams appeared virtually before the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration Tuesday afternoon, where he told members the biggest threat to the election system is misinformation – and it comes from both sides of the political aisle.

From the office of Kentucky Secretary of State:

Chairwoman Klobuchar, Ranking Member Blunt, Members of the Committee:

Good afternoon. I’m Michael Adams, Kentucky’s Secretary of State and chief election official. I was elected in 2019, but I got my start in election policy at a little intern desk in your hearing room 22 years ago. It’s an honor to be back here, albeit virtually.

Today we discuss an unpleasant topic, but the news is not all bad. In Kentucky, voting has never been as accessible, nor as secure, as it is has been in the 21 months of my term. Last year, 3 months after being sworn in, I asked our legislature to grant me, a Republican, and our Democratic governor, joint emergency powers to alter election procedures, as necessary, to ensure public safety in the pandemic, without sacrificing voter access or ballot integrity. We made absentee balloting more available and extended in-person voting well beyond the 1 election day Kentucky had from 1891 through 2019.

The result was a primary election and a general election that each set records for turnout, yet no spike in Covid-19 cases deriving from the in-person voting. This approach proved so successful and so popular that our Republican-controlled legislature voted nearly unanimously to make most of these temporary changes permanent – early voting, an absentee ballot request portal, dropboxes, and more.

All this good news, ironically, lends itself to a higher level of frustration, by me, by our other election officials, by our legislators, about the unwillingness of certain quarters, on both sides of the aisle, to accept the reality that our election process is accessible and secure. In our current populist, anti-establishment political culture, part of this is organic, a reflexive refusal to believe anything somebody in the government says. This is not unique to elections, as we’ve seen with lagging vaccination rates. However, part of this is not organic, but rather is driven, by political actors who perceive some benefit in misinforming voters.

Addressing this should not be a partisan issue, because misinformation is not limited to one side. In Kentucky, we election officials were subject to a misinformation campaign that resulted in numerous threats of violence and other verbal abuse. The so-called All Eyes on Kentucky effort directed against us did not come from conservatives concerned about voter fraud; it came from progressives duped into believing that we were engaged in voter suppression. Worse, this misinformation effort was given oxygen by senior figures within the national Democratic Party. I remain grateful to our Democratic governor for defending our state and calling out these lies.

I’m not here to take political shots, to engage in moral relativism, or to diminish the experiences of Secretary Hobbs or any other election official; to the contrary, I’m here to show that the problem is even wider. The first step in ensuring the safety of our election officials is to do no harm yourselves. Please, keep your rhetoric factual and responsible.

Misinformation is the most serious threat our election system faces, because it is upstream of so many other problems we face: safety of election officials; willingness of election officials, including volunteer poll workers, to serve; voter turnout; polarization; and ultimately, the accepted legitimacy of our democratic system.

Election officials are at risk, but we are not unique in this: public officials are at risk. Those of you serving our nation in the U.S. Capitol certainly don’t need me to inform you of this. In Kentucky, our Democratic governor has received threats from some on the far right: our Republican attorney general has received threats from some on the far left. Even public health officials in our state have received threats, and my fear is that school board members will be next, if they aren’t already. This shows the problem is worse than we might think, yet also less susceptible to a simple solution in the form of yet another federal law.

At its best, Congress plays a constructive role in election administration by providing funding – reliable, predictable funding – to our states, chipping in a share of election costs alongside state and local election funding. These efforts have been bipartisan, and for that reason, accepted across the political spectrum. I have no wish that you pass any particular election laws going forward, but if you do, I hope you will do so in a non-ideological, bipartisan fashion, rather than furthering the polarization that plagues our politics. Thank you.

  

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