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Bill to move governor, other odd-year Ky. elections to presidential year passes committee

Sen. Chris McDaniel speaking on floor of state Senate with blue suitcoat, red tie, looking up. Small microphone.
Bud Kraft
/
LRC Public Information
State Senate Appropriations and Revenue Chair Chris McDaniel, of Ryland Heights.

A perennial bill to move elections from odd-years — including the Kentucky governor’s race — to presidential election years is likely to move on to get a vote in the Senate. The proposed constitutional amendment has made it that far before, but is often held up in the House of Representatives.

It’s not the first time Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Ryland Heights, has proposed a constitutional amendment to move the state’s off-year elections. In fact, he’s been proposing the constitutional amendment for over a decade.

“Last night, when I was sitting at the dinner table, I realized that one of my sons — who's now 10 — was not yet born when I first proposed this bill,” McDaniel joked before the Senate committee on State and Local Government on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 10 passed the committee with a favorable recommendation and is likely to receive a vote in the Senate. If SB10 is successful this year and is passed by the voters on the November ballot, elections usually held in off-years — including governor, attorney general, secretary of state and commissioner of agriculture — would be moved to even-numbered, presidential years starting in 2028.

In previous years, the proposed constitutional amendment has passed the Senate with the necessary three-fifths majority. But it has usually stalled out in the House, and for the past several attempts it did not even receive a committee hearing. If it were to make it past both chambers, the amendment would land on the ballot in a statewide referendum.

Now that Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is term-limited, and therefore cannot benefit from the additional year in office the state’s next governor will receive, the bill may appear more attractive to Republicans.

McDaniel said the legislation would both save money by condensing the number of elections and would result in more people voting on constitutional offices. Turnout during presidential years is often more than a dozen points higher than in off-years, according to State Board of Elections data.

“At a time of tough budgets, and when every level of government continues to look for ways to find funding, this is a significant way to be able to help those counties, and also to ensure that we have more people participating in our democracy,” McDaniel said.

Louisville Democrat Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong was the only no vote on the bill in committee. Armstrong said the framers of the Kentucky Constitution intentionally placed the state’s executive offices in their own year.

“With national division, with presidential elections lasting for years and eating up the airwaves, I think it's really important that the people of Kentucky have space to focus on Kentucky issues and the issues that impact us here in the Commonwealth,” Armstrong said.

The proposition would likely result in fairly small state savings, but could result in bigger savings for counties. McDaniel said he projects the bill would save the state government $2 million and could save counties $15 million — for comparison the state spent $42 billion in fiscal year 2023.

Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams, whose office oversees Kentucky’s elections, said he remains neutral on bills that don’t restrict voter access, but said he sees both pros and cons for the legislation.

Adams said he would definitely expect to see a lot more people voting for constitutional officers, something more on par with the number of votes cast for even-year statewide offices. But he also said he thought the longer ballot might lead to more straight-ticket voting.

“I do think a lot of that voting would just be kind of automatic — straight ticket ‘D’ or ‘R’ for people that are already voting for president anyway,” Adams said. “I don't know that you'd have the kind of scrutiny of candidates in that kind of an election that you would if you do it in a different cycle.”

Adams said he would also imagine state races getting even more expensive, with more campaigns competing for air time and advertising space in a given year.

“It's already hard to get attention if you're running for office, unless it's a high profile office. When you've got more competition, it's harder,” Adams said. “So it's probably a good bill for county governments and probably a bad bill for people who run for office.”

Bobbie Holsclaw, the Jefferson County clerk and chairperson for the state Board of Elections, said anything to reduce costs for districts would be a good thing. The addition of early voting days and rising costs are stretching some county clerks offices thinner and thinner.

“Everything has just become much more expensive,” Holsclaw said. “It’s much more expensive to find places, what they charge to use these facilities on election day. It’s expensive to haul equipment to all these different locations. We had an increase in poll worker pay a couple of years ago. All of that goes into play.”

She also said that one downside is that longer ballots will likely mean longer waits at the polls, but the savings could also mean more spending to beef up resources in the two remaining election years as well as more concentrated voter turnout efforts.

Adams noted that Kentucky is the odd state out for having elections in off-years. Only four states besides Kentucky elect their governors between national races: Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia.

All of those states also hold off-year state legislative elections, a practice Kentucky used to hold before eliminating it over the course of the 20th century.

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Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.