Election reform efforts to expand ballot access made little headway around the Ohio Valley, as only one state in the region made voting easier, according to a voting rights expert.
Several state governments around the nation are making major changes to voting laws following the 2020 presidential election.
Kentucky is the only state in the Ohio Valley that passed significant voting changes. Lawmakers in the state passed a bipartisan election reform bill, House Bill 574, that made a few pandemic-era voting changes permanent, with some adjustments.
Some of those changes include three days of in-person early voting, making permanent some features on the state’s online election portal, and more voting center options for counties.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear tweeted after signing the bill, “I firmly believe we should be making it easier for Kentuckains to vote and participate in the democratic process. HB 574 represents the important first steps needed to preserve and protect every individual’s right to make their voice heard.”
University of Kentucky law professor and election law expert Joshua Douglas was a part of the conversations about the bill during the legislative session.
He said although the election reform efforts are not where he’d like them to be, the state made progress on expanding voting access with the bill.
“What we showed is that election access and election integrity don’t need to be mutually exclusive, and that we can get bipartisan agreement on elections rules and that makes those rules more legitimate," the UK professor said.
Douglas said common sense measures in the bill, like having paper ballot backups, will help with security.
The bill requires any new voting machine to have a paper backup so the state can shift away from electronic only voting machines.
“That's really a best practice, that election administrators all over the countries agree is better for election security,” Douglas said.
A number of Republican-led states, such as Georgia, have made major voting changes that will impact voting access. Douglas said it is important to recognize the context of the laws and previous voting policies before comparing states.
“Kentucky made great strides by passing an overwhelmingly bipartisan law that does some mild voter expansions and election security enhancements,” Douglas said. He said that Kentucky’s voting laws are still too restrictive. But in the context in which Kentucky’s law was passed compared to other laws, the state is making improvements.
“When you have Republican legislators all over the country passing partisan-based bills to restrict access, because of the ‘big lie,’ this notion that Trump lost those states only because of some sort of election fraud, is a very different story.”
Ohio doesn’t have any major bills in the works that would impact people going to the polls in future elections. There is a house bill that is currently in committee that would require certain judicial candidates to have political party affiliations on the ballot. There’s also a house bill that would help secure ballot drop boxes.
West Virginia lawmakers considered a senate bill that would have changed the state’s early voting dates, made interfering with an election a misdemeanor, and would have introduced policies that aid county clerks. However, West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports that the bill did not advance from committee.