Military voting bill clears Senate without electronic option

By Kevin Wheatley Published:

A bill that would expand voting rights for military and Kentuckians living overseas cleared a Senate committee Thursday without a provision that would have allowed votes to be cast electronically.

An amendment to Senate Bill 1, which passed by a 6-4 vote along party lines in the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee, removed language for the casting of ballots via an electronic transmission system maintained by the secretary of state’s office.

The bill as amended passed unanimously.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican and sponsor of SB 1, cited concerns of securely sending ballots via the Internet and maintaining voter anonymity. Under the bill, absentee ballots could be requested and received electronically, but they must be returned via U.S. mail.

He said a panel – including Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Adjutant General Edward Tonini and chairpersons of the Senate and House elections and military affairs committees – would examine the security of sending absentee ballots electronically and report to lawmakers by Nov. 27.

Without an election this year, Stivers said the issue of securely sending absentee ballots electronically could be vetted in time for the 2014 legislative session.

“It is not something that we are wanting to in any way impede anybody’s right to have their vote cast and counted,” he said.

Grimes, who has pushed for expanded military and overseas voting rights since visiting the Middle East in September, said a system allowing deployed military personnel to send absentee ballots electronically was a key provision of SB 1.

More than 4,600 absentee ballots were sent overseas last year and 3,665 were returned, she said. Of those returned, more than 300 were not counted for various reasons, like late arrival or failure to be postmarked or signed.

Voters overseas have requested and received absentee ballot applications and blank absentee ballots via the Internet since 2010 and should be able to cast votes electronically, she said.

“Twenty-four other states have successfully been doing this, and I would hate to see the state of Kentucky hesitate,” Grimes told the committee.

She said more than 90 Kentucky county clerks support electronic voting. The state has 120 counties.

SB 1 includes provisions of the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act to improve access to state and local elections for military personnel deployed overseas, including members of the National Guard. Under the legislation, overseas voters could register to vote, request absentee ballots and receive them electronically as well as receive notification by the secretary of state’s office when ballots have been accepted.

In another amendment approved Thursday, overseas absentee ballots would have to be received by 6 p.m. on Election Day. Grimes had sought to accept ballots a day before elections are certified in certain circumstances.

“That way you can certify and tell somebody they were a winner or loser on that night instead of having to wait three days,” Stivers said of the amendment after the meeting.

The bill moves to the full Senate, where the electronic submission of ballots likely will be debated further. Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said she wants to revisit the issue in a floor amendment before a vote.

Grimes said SB 1, despite the amendments, would help Kentucky improve its military voting procedures. She urged lawmakers on the committee to consider the bill as originally filed when it comes to a vote.

“That is what our men and women in uniform deserve, and I will continue to fight for them,” she told lawmakers.

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