Kentucky Republicans Pass Voter ID Law In Midst Of Coronavirus Pandemic

The GOP-controlled legislature overrode Gov. Andy Beshear's (D) veto.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) speaks about the novel coronavirus during a media conference in Frankfort on April 5, 2020.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) speaks about the novel coronavirus during a media conference in Frankfort on April 5, 2020.
Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP

Kentucky’s GOP-controlled legislature successfully overrode Gov. Andy Beshear’s (D) veto of a voter ID bill on Tuesday night, a move that adds an extra hurdle for people to vote in November.

The bill requires people to show government-issued photo identification in order to cast a ballot, starting in November. A key race ― the reelection of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) ― will be on the ballot.

The legislature originally passed the bill in late March, but Beshear vetoed it.

This legislation comes at a time when people are already struggling to vote in primary elections because of the coronavirus pandemic. While many officials in both parties are trying to make it easier for people to vote ― through absentee ballots and other measures ― some Republicans are using the crisis to further suppress voting.

They’ve blocked vote-by-mail measures ― openly complaining that such initiatives would mean more people could vote ― created commissions to crack down on supposed voter fraud, and pushed legislation putting up more hurdles to dissuade people from voting.

“I think that this is a decision being made in a world like we don’t have an international health pandemic,” Beshear said Tuesday during a news briefing. “Can’t [Republicans] at least wait until the next session when we’re not facing this? . . . If you want to pass a voter ID bill, that’s fine, but let’s do it outside the coronavirus.”

Government offices ― such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, where many people would obtain a photo ID ― are closed for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus.

State Sen. Robby Mills (R), the lead sponsor of the bill, said he was “sure that we will have those clerks’ offices open and doing business later in the spring or summer.”

“And there’s going to be ample opportunities for folks that do not have a valid photo ID to obtain that free photo ID that is allowed in this piece of legislation,” he added.

State Sen. Damon Thayer (R), one of the bill’s sponsors, tweeted that it was a “great day” for Republicans.

The ACLU of Kentucky said it was considering filing a lawsuit to block the law.

“At a time when officials of both parties throughout the country are working together to ensure every eligible voter can safely participate in their elections, the Kentucky General Assembly is making it more difficult to vote,” said Corey Shapiro, the group’s legal director. “They have pushed this voter suppression measure in the name of election security, yet not a single proponent of this law has ever provided any instance of in-person voter fraud in Kentucky.”

Shapiro added that under this new law, starting in July, voters will have to have a photocopy of a photo ID to obtain an absentee ballot.

“This will force thousands of Kentuckians to leave home to get new IDs and make photocopies during a pandemic that many experts believe will continue throughout the year,” Shapiro said. “This law will make voting more difficult, and potentially dangerous, for any Kentuckian who does not feel safe leaving their home during this pandemic – even for those who currently have a valid photo ID.”

Voter fraud is extremely rare, yet voter ID bills are popular with Republicans. The elderly, students and people of color ― who often vote for Democrats ― are the groups that are most likely to lack proper ID.

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