Special election first test of military voting law
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A special legislative election in central Kentucky could be the first test of the state' new military voting law passed earlier this year to help ensure soldiers deployed to foreign counties get to cast ballots back home.
Gov. Steve Beshear set the election for June 25 to replace former state Rep. Carl Rollins, who resigned earlier this week to become executive director of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority. The election date, some two months off as required now, will allow more time for county clerks to send absentee ballots to military personnel and others serving overseas.
Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said election officials need the additional time allotted by the new law because absentee ballots from 121 Kentucky soldiers didn't arrive back in the state before Election Day last year and weren't counted.
"Kentuckians who risk their lives on the battlefield must have their voices heard at the ballot box," Grimes said in a statement Friday.
Allowing troops adequate time to return ballots has been an issue that Grimes has pressed both in the Legislature and in the courtroom. Last year, she filed a lawsuit that resulted in military personnel deployed overseas getting an additional month to cast absentee ballots in three separate special elections.
Several county clerks intervened in that case, siding with Grimes.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, joined in the effort when the Legislature convened earlier this year, personally sponsoring the bill that contained a provision requiring 49 days between filing deadlines and elections. That provision, rushed into place under an emergency clause, went into effect immediately after Beshear signed the bill in March. Other provisions of the law won't take effect until June.
"The emergency clause was meant to deal with just this situation, where a special election was called prior to new laws taking effect," said Lynn Sowards Zellen, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office.
Grimes had wanted a provision that would have allowed soldiers to return absentee ballots via the Internet, but Stivers declined because of security concerns.
The government watchdog group Common Cause of Kentucky raised concerns about hackers potentially accessing ballots online and influencing elections. The group's chairman, Louisville attorney Richard Beliles, said he believes the integrity of elections could have been at stake.
Grimes visited soldiers and reviewed military voting during a trip to the Middle East last September. She said she concluded that the current system was falling short.
Rollins, who was chairman of the House Education Committee, served all of Woodford County and portions of Fayette and Franklin counties. More than 200 soldiers from the three counties sought absentee ballots in last year's general election. Only about 150 made it back to the state.