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Grade TL;DR

In 2021, the Kentucky Legislature passed a landmark, bipartisan pro-voter bill that expanded voting access for eligible voters in the state. Last year saw mostly positive improvements as well, including expanded early voting and an increase in funding for new election equipment. Although the Legislature remained unable to pass legislation to automatically restore voting rights and instituted a ban on private funding for elections, the state made significant and notable progress towards expanding voting rights. Because of that, Kentucky received an A- on this year’s progress report.

Looking Back

Where Kentucky Started in 2020

  • Automatic Voter Registration: No
  • Online Voter Registration: Open to all Eligible
  • Same-Day Registration: No
  • Restoration of Rights: Some permanent disenfranchisement
  • Vote by Mail: Excuse-Only
  • Electronic Registration Information Center Member: Yes
  • Early Voting Opportunities: No
  • ID Requirements: ID Requested, but not Required

Relying on the Cost of Voting Index for Kentucky as of 2020, we considered the state a bottom tier state for pre-existing voting policy and compared its 2021-22 activity against other bottom tier states.

How Our Tier Compares:

  • COVI (2020): 43rd
  • EPI Score (2020): 32nd
  • CLC State Scorecard (2022): 5/10
  • MAP Democracy Rating (2022): FAIR

2021: Two Years Ago

Legislative Action

  • During the 2021 legislative session, Kentucky passed H 574, a historic bipartisan-supported election law that strengthened voter access and increased security measures. Under H 574, Kentucky codified many of the emergency election changes that were put in place during the 2020 election to ensure voters had safe and easy access to the polls.
    • Establishes a no-excuse early voting period from Thursday through Saturday before election
    • Streamlines online absentee ballot application portal
    • Allows ballot returns by family, household members, and caregivers
    • Establishes a notice and cure process for absentee ballots
    • Allows for at least 1 drop box in every county
    • Allows for vote centers in counties
    • Allows for early ballot processing to begin 14 days before election
    • Establishes ballot tracking technology and printed barcodes to track ballots
    • Creates additional list maintenance procedures to ensure current and accurate registration records

2022: This Past Year

Legislative Action

The 2022 Legislature sought to make mostly minimal changes to elections, many of which were pro-voter bills.

  • H 564 expands the timeframe that the polls could be open for early voting. An eight-hour early voting period can now take place anytime between 6am and 8pm.
  • H 301 bars the use of private funds for elections — specifically private assistance for voter registration activities — without providing consistent ongoing public funding for election administration. Any violators are subject to felony convictions.
  • S 216 continues to strengthen the already robust election security measures in the state by increasing the number of counties randomly reviewed for election irregularities, keeping voting equipment and ballot boxes under video surveillance for 30 days post-election, does not allow for vote tabulating or aggregating equipment to be connected to the internet, and reconfigures the State Board of Elections.
  • H 1, the executive budget bill, will provide $25 million dollars for grants to county clerks to purchase new election equipment in 2024 and 2025. This will provide some much-needed funds to election offices, particularly after the Legislature banned private funding sources.
  • Kentucky has one of the highest rates of disenfranchisement in the country, even after Governor Beshear’s 2019 executive order that restored voting rights to tens of thousands of citizens. Unfortunately, for yet another session, the Legislature was unable to pass legislation that would provide a path to allow for automatic restoration of rights.