Candidates Discuss Homeless, Ex-Felon Voting Rights

Sep 20, 2011

The voting rights of Kentucky’s homeless citizens and convicted felons were key points of contention during last night’s election forum on Kentucky Educational Television.  KET hosted candidates in the race for secretary of state, who supervises the Commonwealth’s elections.  As WEKU’S Stu Johnson reports, they differed over the rules that govern voters.

The two candidates,  Alison Lundergan-Grimes, a Lexington attorney and Bill Johnson, who’s worked in the oil and gas industry, certainly offer voters a choice. Before they can cast a ballot, Republican Bill Johnson contends all voters must reside somewhere, somewhat permanent….

“So if it’s a legal place to live, if it’s a tent in a campground, that’s fine.  But it must meet that definition.  You must return there.  You must intend to remain there.  And you must be communicated there,” said Johnson.

Johnson argues any requirement looser that that opens the door to  voter fraud.  

But, Democrat Alison Lundergan-Grimes says all properly registered voters have a right to participate in the electoral process…whether they have a permanent address, a semi-permanent address or no address at all.

“State and federal law, the 14th amendment to the equal protection clause dictates that we treat everyone fairly regardless of whether they live in a four walled dwelling or a park bench,” said Lundergan-Grimes.

According to statistics quoted by Lundergan-Grimes, homeless individuals rarely vote in state elections.

Since the Presidential vote in 2000, the nation’s elections officials have worked to ease the process and increase voter turnout.  For example, in some states, voters now cast a ballot weeks in advance of a formal election day at what are called voting centers.  Lundergan-Grimes says the option deserves attention.

“I’m in favor of having a discussion with county clerks about working together so we can increase participation by allowing people to vote early without an excuse, but obviously you wouldn’t want that to be an unfunded mandate on our county clerks,” said Lundergan-Grimes.

Currently in the Commonwealth, voters can cast an early vote with an absentee ballot…but they need an excuse.  Bill Johnson says it’s a system that has served the Kentucky well and it should remain unchanged.

“I’ve been opposed to early voting.  I want to protect, other than the absentee process, which is in place today, I want to preserve the sanctity of election day.  I think it’s important that on that day we show up and we vote and we decide who are elected officials are gonna’ be,” said Johnson.

Both candidates agree on-line voting deserves future study.

The two secretary of state candidates also have opposing views on the restoration of voting rights for felons who have served their time.  Johnson says that decision should remain in the governor’s hands, who can consider each case individually.  Lundergan-Grimes wants a more automatic process, written into state law.  

Both Lundergan-Grimes and Johnson told KET host Bill Goodman they believe the secretary of state can play a bigger role in business recruitment. For example, the secretary of state’s office helps businesses set up corporations in Kentucky.  Johnson believes more of that paperwork can be done on-line.

“And it takes you through the process of how to set up the business incorporate.  It takes you through the process of any inspections that you need to have done at both the state and the local level,” said Johnson.

Lundergan-Grimes adds non-profit organizations could also benefit from such on-line services.

“So we have people wanting to do charitable work here in the states.  Take for instance the Salvation Army.  That instead of coming here to incorporate, they are going across our borders to Ohio, Tennessee, or Indiana,” says Lundergan-Grimes.

During the broadcast, an e-mail questioned Lundergan-Grimes about her ambitions for higher office…suggesting she could be a running mate for House speaker Greg Stumbo, if he makes a run someday for governor. 

“My sights are focused on the secretary of state’s office.  I believe this is an office, given my background, that I can do a lot of good with,” said Lundergan-Grimes.

After the hour long broadcast, both candidates took a few questions outside the studio.  With election day seven weeks away, Bill Johnson finds the governor’s race, which normally defines an election year in Kentucky, has not provided his campaign with a lift.

“I anticipate a low voter turnout.  There’s not a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the governor’s race.  And generally the governor’s race drives enthusiasm in these races.  So there’s a lack of enthusiasm, could translate to a lack of people showing up to vote.  So we need to find a way to get people out to vote,” said Johnson.

Allison Lundergan-Grimes says she is excited with the Democratic incumbent’s double digit lead in some polls, but adds, polls don’t win elections, people do.  Johnson, meanwhile, intends to spend most of his advertising budget on radio ads.  He says television commercials don’t reach as many people as they once did.  Lundergan-Grimes says she’ll run on her merits