Thursday, April 16, 2020

Egghead Week: Maximum Override in Kentucky

Here in Kentucky, where the state legislature needs only a 50%+1 majority in both the State House and Senate to override any governor's veto, the Kentucky GOP has finally given the state one of the most ridiculous photo voter ID laws in the country, and all the DMV offices issuing acceptable IDs are closed during the pandemic.

Late last month, Gov. Beshear handed down an executive order providing that “all businesses that are not life-sustaining shall cease operations ... except as needed to conduct Minimum Basic Operations.” Among other things, the order suspends “all in-person government activities ... that are not necessary to sustain or protect life, or to supporting Life-Sustaining Businesses.”

Thus, Kentucky voters who lack an ID — perhaps because they recently moved to the state and didn’t get around to obtaining a Kentucky driver’s license before the coronavirus lockdown began — may be unable to obtain this ID in time to vote because the state offices that issue such IDs are closed. The future of life under coronavirus remains very uncertain, and it is, as yet, unclear when the country will return to anything resembling normal.

Even if Kentucky is able to relax restrictions as more testing for the virus becomes available, it may need to reimpose strict limits on businesses and government offices if an outbreak occurs. Voters may only have a limited window to acquire an ID, and that window might close just as a particular voter was preparing to obtain one.

Kentucky’s law, moreover, also resembles a similar Wisconsin law in that it requires voters to show ID in order to obtain an absentee ballot. So voters without ID cannot escape the law by voting by mail.

The new law does permit some voters to cast a ballot without showing photo ID — if they sign a sworn statement affirming that they are lawful voters and providing certain information. But this exemption from the photo ID requirement is only available to a limited group of voters, and it is far from clear that a healthy voter qualifies because they were unable to obtain an ID because government offices were shut down during a pandemic.

Although the law allows a voter to cast a ballot without showing photo ID if they were prevented from getting an ID due to “disability or illness,” the statute is not clear on whether the voter must themselves be infected by this illness in order to qualify. And voters who misuse the exemption could potentially face perjury charges.

It’s worth noting that there could potentially be a very high-profile race on Kentucky’s ballot this November. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is up for reelection, and there is some evidence that McConnell could be defeated if 2020 is a strong year for Democrats. In January, for example, one poll showed McConnell just 3 percentage points ahead of possible Democratic challenger Amy McGrath, and a second poll showed McConnell and McGrath tied.

So, while the impact of voter ID is uncertain under normal circumstances, there are good reasons to believe that such a law could have a larger effect during a pandemic. Whether that impact would be enough to skew a close election from McGrath to McConnell is also unclear. But, at the very least, many voters could struggle to cast a ballot if they are unable to obtain the IDs they need to vote.

Several other party line veto overrides were taken, including passing a measure that would stop the governor from pushing back choosing a Lieutenant Governor running mate, as well as insurance laws and redefining how the state calculates public education achievement gaps, which Beshear said would cut millions of dollars in funding from the poorest-performing schools.

And to top it all off, Kentucky Republicans are quickly crafting a measure that would give the General Assembly the power to reopen businesses across the state as long as state licensing bureaus (now controlled by Republicans in the General Assembly after the Governor's power of appointments to the licensing boards were all but written out this week) approve and can "open non-essential businesses safely" in their eyes.

Finally, the KY GOP is doing everything it can to deem abortion clinics as "non-essential" and taking the choice away from Gov. Beshear as long as the state remains under any health-related emergency.

Because that's the important part right now.

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