FRANKFORT, KY – Secretary of State Michael Adams testified Friday afternoon before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, offering an assessment of what has made Kentucky a national leader this year in election administration.
Secretary Adams’ full prepared remarks are below.
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, good afternoon.
I’m Michael Adams, Kentucky’s Secretary of State. I was sworn in January 6th of this year. Talk about hazing the new guy. Despite the challenges we’ve faced this year, Kentucky has a good story to tell and I’m honored to have the opportunity.
On March 6th, Kentucky diagnosed its first case of COVID-19. Ten days later, our Governor, Andy Beshear, a Democrat, and I, a Republican, jointly agreed to delay Kentucky’s primary election from May 19th to June 23rd.
Before long we knew the virus would not be gone by June. Our legislature, at my request, came together across party lines to grant a Democratic Governor and Republican Secretary of State new, joint emergency powers to change our election methods – but only if the Governor and I acted together. To make a change, we must both turn the key.
It was obvious that flexibility in our election system was needed. In our state, usually 98% of voters vote in person on election day. That traditional model was not well-suited to today’s challenges.
Kentucky had the good fortune to vote after several other states, and we learned a lot from their experiences, positive and negative. This flexibility gave us time to monitor these developments. The biggest benefit, though, of legislators of both parties giving executive branch officials of both parties the ability to make changes was that the new rules were fair, and seen as fair. We avoided the brinksmanship you’ve seen in other states; we fashioned fair and clear rules, well in advance of the election, and consistently messaged the new procedures in order to both inform and reassure voters. Bipartisanship not only led to a better product, with concerns on both sides accommodated; it also showed voters on both sides that our new election rules were legitimate.
To be sure, there were those outside our state who thought they knew better how to run our election than we did. Whether in Hollywood, New York, or here in Congress, they put out false and hateful tweets that riled up citizens of other states to jam our phones with obscene calls and even death threats. Everything they accused us of, and everything they predicted would happen, was just flat wrong, and they should all be ashamed. We had a huge voter turnout, and no spike in COVID-19 cases. Turns out Kentucky knows best what is best for Kentucky, and I would urge you to let Kentucky be Kentucky, let Michigan be Michigan, and respect the laboratories of democracy that lead to innovation in a decentralized election system. Although I’m grateful for the CARES Act funding Congress gave us to reduce our costs, I would rather you give us no funding at all if more funding means you’re going to tell us how to run our elections.
In our state, we found that what made the most sense for June was no-excuse absentee voting, as we had a severe drop-off in the number of available poll workers and voting locations. For November, with turnout expected to more than double from the primary, we are tightening the absentee voting standard somewhat, preserving it for those who need it due to age or health concerns, but also not overwhelming our infrastructure – our county clerks, who process the ballots, and our postal system. In both elections, we’ve utilized an absentee ballot request portal linked to our drivers’ license database so we can verify voter identity. We also track ballot envelopes with bar codes, and signature-match every single one before the ballot is counted.
Both for our primary and general election, we’ve offered weeks of early in-person voting. I’ve found that Kentuckians of both parties want to vote in person if they can, and as we showed in June, we know how to conduct in-person voting safely. Although I support absentee balloting for those who need it, early voting is a far less expensive and labor-intensive way to conduct an election, and it takes the pressure off election day voting sites. Having more election days also spreads out the crowds and facilitates social distancing.
One silver lining of our pandemic primary is that it prompted an upgrade of voting equipment in some of our counties whose prior voting equipment did not allow for a paper trail. This was possible due to HAVA dollars you appropriated in December. We used those funds strategically alongside CARES Act dollars to help counties get new scanners and other equipment usable for processing absentee ballots, which of course are paper ballots. For me, the gold standard is paper ballots counted electronically, so we get the speed of a quick count but the security of a paper trail. It was a goal of mine over the decade to introduce paper balloting to every Kentucky county, but it now won’t take nearly that long.
We have our work cut out for us. I’m grateful to Congress for coming together to appropriate funds we states could use to run our elections in a difficult time. I would encourage you to do so again, but not at the expense of any strings attached, red tape, or direction in how to run the elections that, under our federal Constitution, are tasked to the states, and us, their election officials. Thank you.