FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky lawmakers have been advancing legislation that would require voters to show a government-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot, but a civil liberties group says it's likely to mount a court challenge if the bill becomes law.
The Republican-backed measure cleared a House committee on a party-line vote Thursday. Some supporters said they're open to considering more changes when the bill reaches the full House.
It previously passed the full Senate.
The bill's opponents raised concerns that the photo ID requirement could suppress turnout among minorities, the elderly and disabled voters. They also objected to having the bill take effect in time for this year's November election. The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky said such a quick implementation would create voter confusion and depress turnout.
“The ACLU of Kentucky is likely to have to challenge such a rushed implementation," Corey Shapiro, the group's legal director, told the House committee.
Kentucky's new secretary of state, Republican Michael Adams, said having the photo ID measure in place for this year's general election would make for a smooth transition. In November, Kentuckians will help choose a president and also decide on one of the nation's highest-profile campaigns: Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's bid for reelection.
“It's much easier for me to get out the message about a change in our election laws when we are actually having an election," Adams told lawmakers. “We're not having elections in 2021."
Adams, who campaigned on the photo ID issue, later said that he's willing to consider more changes to the bill.
“However, I do think that negotiation involves getting something and giving something," he said in an interview. “If we make changes that have been requested today, I'd like the ACLU to go on the record and say they're not going to sue to overturn this law."
The ACLU has taken the state to court in recent years to challenge a series of anti-abortion laws enacted by the state's GOP-dominated legislature.
Under the elections bill, people lacking photo IDs could present debit or credit cards or Social Security cards and still be allowed to vote. They would have to affirm in writing that they're qualified to vote at that polling place. The bill also would allow voters with expired photo IDs to cast a ballot.
Currently, Kentucky voters are asked to show identification, but it doesn't have to be photo ID. Adams has said that 98% of Kentucky voters bring photo IDs to the polls.
The bill would set up a process for adults to obtain a free ID if they can't afford a photo ID.
The House committee's Democratic members voted against the bill, raising concerns that it could suppress turnout by making it harder for minorities, the elderly and the disabled to vote.
“This is a clear attempt to block access to the polls," said Democratic Rep Mary Lou Marzian.
Republican Sen. Robby Mills of Henderson, the bill’s lead sponsor, said the measure “closes the gap" in existing voter identification procedures and would build greater public confidence in elections.
Josh Douglas, an election law expert and professor at the University of Kentucky, told the committee that voter impersonation — which the measure is aimed at — is already “virtually non-existent."
Douglas also raised concerns about implementing the photo ID measure in time for this year's general election, calling it “a pretty big ask" for the state.