FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky voters would be asked to show a government-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot, under a bill that won state Senate approval Thursday — but the legislation provides some exceptions.
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 Republican-backed bill also would allow voters with expired photo IDs to cast a ballot. Those changes softening the bill were added by a Senate committee on Wednesday.
The measure cleared the Senate on a 29-9 vote Thursday after a lengthy debate that divided the chamber along party lines. The bill now heads to the GOP-led House.
Currently, Kentucky voters are asked to show identification, but it doesn't have to be photo ID.
A Democratic lawmaker opposed to the bill raised concerns that imposing stricter election standards could lead to instances of voter suppression.
“This bill goes in the exact wrong direction for what we stand for as a nation," said Sen. Reginald Thomas of Lexington.
That brought a stern response from Senate President Robert Stivers.
“This is not about suppression," the Manchester Republican said. “This is about integrity. Integrity of the most sacred right we have as citizens, to get out and voice our opinion."
The bill is a priority of Senate Republicans in charge of the Senate.
If enacted into law, it would take effect in time for this year's November election, when 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.
Republican Sen. Robby Mills of Henderson, the bill’s lead sponsor, said Thursday that it sets “reasonable requirements" that voters properly identify themselves.
“If our vote is as valuable as we all say it is, we should do all we can do to protect it and to make sure that everyone is who they say they are on the day that they show up and vote," Mills said.
Kentucky's new secretary of state, Republican Michael Adams, helped craft revisions to the bill and has been an outspoken supporter for its passage. Adams has said that 98% of Kentucky voters bring photo IDs to the polls.
Speaking against the bill, Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey said he worried its conditions would make it harder to vote for the fraction of Kentuckians lacking proper documentation.
“Those are the 2% who are often poor, who can't afford those licenses, who have circumstances that don't allow them the form of government ID we're talking about," the Louisville Democrat said.
Supporters noted that the bill would set up a process for adults to obtain a free ID if they can't afford a photo ID.
Supporters have acknowledged they're unaware of any convictions for voter impersonation at the polls in Kentucky. McGarvey said that's because the state already requires voters to produce some form of identification.
“We have zero instances of in-person voter fraud with the law we have now," he said. “Government has been pro-active on this front and it's working."
Stivers responded that “just because it's not reported doesn't mean it didn't happen."
The bill's opponents said that instead of creating stricter standards, the state should be expanding the hours polls are open on Election Day and taking other steps to make voting easier.
Also under the bill, people showing up at the polls without any forms of ID would be allowed to cast provisional ballots. They would have to present approved forms of ID at the county clerk's office in the days following the election for their ballot to be validated.
The legislation is Senate Bill 2.