Voter photo ID bill wins final passage during flurry of work

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — In their flurry of work before taking a weeklong break, Kentucky lawmakers gave final approval to a bill to require state residents to show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote.

The measure cleared the Republican-controlled legislature Thursday night. On Friday, Gov. Andy Beshear expressed concerns about the proposal sent to his desk.

Beshear said he needed to review it but warned: “If this is going to make it harder especially for people to vote in this election, with what we’re going through right now, I definitely won’t sign it.”

The voter photo ID legislation was among stacks of bills voted on before lawmakers adjourned Thursday night until March 26 because of concerns about the new coronavirus.

The final version was the product of work by a House-Senate conference committee. The bill was a high-profile issue in the legislative session. It's lead sponsor is GOP Sen. Robby Mills.

It would require voters to produce a photo ID when voting, with limited exceptions, starting with the November election, said Secretary of State Michael Adams, a leading supporter of the bill.

People lacking their photo ID at the polls could vote by provisional ballot and later produce that ID to enable their ballot to be counted, Adams said. Or voters could cast their ballots if recognized by an election officer, who would have to sign a document affirming to knowing the voter.

In praising the legislature's action, Adams said the state “cannot lose sight of the importance of ballot integrity. That’s why we need this law to require a photo ID to vote in Kentucky’s elections.”

Adams, a Republican, campaigned on the issue en route to his election victory last year.

As lawmakers reviewed the bill, opponents said voter impersonation isn’t a problem in Kentucky. They said the photo ID requirement would reduce turnout among minorities, the poor, the elderly and disabled voters.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky is among the opponents. Its legal director, Corey Shapiro, said the final version was “missing important provisions that would have softened the blow to voters." The ACLU said it objected to the “rushed timeline" to implement the photo ID requirement just months before a “highly anticipated general election."

In November, Kentuckians will vote for a president and decide one of the nation’s highest-profile campaigns: Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bid for reelection.

The ACLU also said the timing of mandating a photo ID to vote was especially bad because of the new coronavirus pandemic.

“Thousands of people who do not meet the newly mandated identification requirements will have to choose between exposing themselves to COVID-19 to obtain identification, or being forced to sit on the sidelines on Election Day," Shapiro said.

The governor raised similar concerns Friday.

“Our clerk’s offices are closed," he said. “How somebody would go in and get an ID right now in the middle of a health care crisis, and that be dependent on them voting, I think we all know that’s a little silly and it’s just not the world we’re living in right now.”

His criticism wasn't meant as an attack on Adams, the governor said. They worked well in the decision to push back the state's primary election to June due to the virus outbreak, Beshear said.

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The legislation is Senate Bill 2.