Jul. 22—ASHLAND — Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams was the guest speaker at the Ashland Kiwanis Club on Wednesday in Ashland.
Adams said it was the first opportunity he'd had to return to Boyd County in an official capacity, but he had been looking forward to it for some time. A major topic of emphasis was the changes in the 2020 elections, and which elements would continue to be in place.
"Obviously we had to implement some changes in 2020 on an emergency basis," the state's chief election official said. "We learned a lot from that process. And in some ways it worked better. But some of those changes were temporary due to COVID, and some of them have become permanent. And I am just going to 'walk through' with everyone the things we have done in Frankfort these past 18 months."
Adams said the reform undertaken by the Kentucky General Assembly contained the most extensive changes to the way Kentuckians vote since 1891.
"And the best part about this is that it was done through bipartisanship," Adams said.
In some other states, Adams said, there have been party polarization and contention across the aisles. Kentucky, however, managed to come together and craft legislature that all parties could be proud of, the Secretary of State said. And that bipartisanship, he said, is key to better serving the constituency.
Although making those changes required a lot of work, Adams said one of the biggest challenges came afterward in the form of making Kentucky voters aware of those changes.
"It has been hard for us to get out of the office and to travel over the last 18 months," Adams said, noting that was true with all Kentucky government officials. "But now we are able to get out to speak to the voters, to make them aware of the changes and answer their questions.
"One of the biggest problems we have — and unfortunately I don't have the answer — is that we don't have enough groups like this," Adams told the Kiwanis Club. "Too many times people dehumanize and demonize people on the other side of the aisle from them. And part of the reason for that is they don't do things like this. They don't go out and have lunch and communicate and share ideas. My guess is there are both Democrats and Republicans in this room. And we don't have enough of that." A conservative Republican, Adam's said he didn't believe it was government's role to solve all the state's and country's problems, but that it was a robust private sector that could address and solve social issues through working together. And the Secretary of State thanked the Kiwanis Club for being an organization that could fulfill that purpose.
"I'm here today to give you a status report on the 2020 elections in Kentucky," Adams said. "And I am pleased to report that they were uniquely safe, secure and successful. They were safe because, unlike other states that had spikes in COVID due to their elections, we did not in spite of millions of people voting in person. And that is a testament to our great county clerks for their work 'on the ground,' and to our voters for being respectful and following the rules.
"We had a secure election," Adams told the audience.
"There were a lot of projections that we were going to have elections that were tampered with," Adams said, addressing a much-politicized fear for voters. "There was the thought that we would have votes that were fraudulent, or had been tampered with, and that turned out to just be false. We actually had a more secure election with fewer reports and problems."
Adams said in spite of altering the rules for safety during the pandemic and a larger voter turnout, the election results were accurate. The recent general election saw the largest voter turnout in Kentucky history, and Adams said he hopes to see that continue after the new proposed bill is implemented.
Adams said beginning in November, following the election, he reached out to Kentucky County Clerks, local officials public organizations and members of the voting public for feedback on the emergency changes that had been made to the voting process. Adams said he also made it a point to speak with other legislators including the governor and the attorney general, and to consider the input of Republicans, Democrats and Independents.
"And what came out of that was the most significant reform in voter legislation since 1891. The entire reason we have a legislature," Adams said, "is to come to Frankfort once a year, kick the tires, look at our healthcare and economic system, and our education systems, and see what needs to be fixed."
After "kicking the tires," Adams said that, by working together, changes were able to be made that would best serve Kentucky. Some of the new changes that received bipartisan support were early voting (something Kentucky had in the 1700s, Adams pointed out), the portal process which made it easier to request an absentee ballot, and (optional) fewer voting locations with the ability to vote in any of the locations. The Secretary of State answered questions from the audience about the changes, addressed concerns and accepted audience feedback.