FRANKFORT — Kentucky's Republican secretary of state said Tuesday he'll press to make more polling places available and count ballots faster in the November general election than in last month's primary.
Secretary of State Michael Adams told lawmakers that mail-in absentee and early in-person voting worked well in the state's unprecedented June primary. He said he hopes to make recommendations to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in early August on plans for conducting the general election amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Adams said it would be difficult to handle absentee ballots the same way it did during the primaries "in all respects."
Adams will work with Beshear's office on planning how Kentucky conducts its November election — when voters will make their choices for offices spanning from the state legislature to the White House. Kentucky has a high-stakes U.S. Senate race pitting Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Amy McGrath. Adams won bipartisan praise from lawmakers Tuesday for how he and Beshear bridged their partisan gap to set the rules for the primary.
Appearing before a legislative panel, Adams said he hopes to avoid a weeklong wait for results like the one that occurred after the primary. Voters also can expect to have more Election Day polling locations available in November, he said.
He also said absentee voting will remain a "big component" of the general election, but stopped short of endorsing the widespread mail-in absentee voting that occurred for the primary.
"It may be possible to expand absentee voting somewhat beyond the current groups of voters who qualify, but personally I'm dubious that we can fully replicate the primary election plan in all respects," Adams said.
Local election offices and post offices could be overwhelmed by huge volumes of absentee ballots for an expected high-turnout general election if the same rules apply as for the primary, he said.
A group of voting rights advocates recently filed a lawsuit in Kentucky in an attempt to keep expanded absentee voting through the November election.
Adams said he hopes to submit his election recommendations to Beshear as soon as next week, saying an early bipartisan agreement will benefit voters and candidates.
"The sooner we have this all in place, the sooner we can get started explaining this to everybody," Adams said.
In June, Kentucky had its highest turnout for a primary election since 2008, despite the daunting challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak. The state resorted to a combination of mail-in absentee ballots, early in-person voting and in-person Election Day voting in June.
The virus will factor into decisions again, including for absentee voting, Adams said.
Under state law, absentee voting is open to people impaired from in-person voting due to age or illness, he said. But in the age of the coronavirus, some people otherwise able to vote in-person will be reluctant to go to polling places because of their age or preexisting health conditions, he said.
While county clerks are split on whether to expand absentee voting for November, they universally support in-person early voting to help "smooth out the number of voters over a period of weeks rather than one day," Adams said. Early voting also is much less expensive than absentee voting, which brings considerable postage and printing costs, he said.
Adams said he and the governor appear to be "on the same page" regarding early voting, but said questions remains about how many days to allow it and at how many locations.
Adams also was pressed on how to ensure that results will be known on election night or shortly after that. Many candidates were kept in suspense for a week after the primary election.
Speeding the process on the front end should resolve delays in election results, Adams said.
For the primary, all absentee ballots had to be postmarked by primary election day and received by county clerks' offices by the Saturday after the election to be counted.
"I think if we get the portal (for absentee ballot applications) open earlier and we get the ballots out earlier, it's not unreasonable to expect the ballots to be returned earlier," Adams told lawmakers. "And that will help us have Election Day results instead of a week later."