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Beshear order allows absentee voting by mail in primary

April 24, 2020 GMT
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FILE - In this April 19 2020 file photo, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks about the novel coronavirus during a media conference at the state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. Beshear signed an order Friday, April 24, allowing Kentucky residents to vote by mail in the upcoming primary election, which had already been pushed back to June because of the coronavirus. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP, File)
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FILE - In this April 19 2020 file photo, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks about the novel coronavirus during a media conference at the state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. Beshear signed an order Friday, April 24, allowing Kentucky residents to vote by mail in the upcoming primary election, which had already been pushed back to June because of the coronavirus. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP, File)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear opened Kentucky’s primary election to widespread mail-in absentee voting in a move Friday to relax election procedures and protect people amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Allowing registered voters to cast ballots through mailed-in absentee voting stems from a bipartisan agreement between the Democratic governor and Kentucky’s Republican secretary of state.

State elections officials also are working on a plan for limited in-person voting and possible drive-thru voting for the June 23 primary, the governor’s office said.

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Election officials at the state and local levels now face a massive undertaking to prepare for the unprecedented voting procedures and to educate voters about the new process.

Under the governor’s order, Kentucky’s registered voters will be notified that they can vote by mail-in absentee balloting. They will be able to go online to request an absentee ballot.

Kentucky’s traditional late May primary was already pushed back to June because of the pandemic. The primary ballot includes races for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, the state legislature and various judicial positions.

The decision to relax Kentucky’s election procedures comes a couple of weeks after Wisconsin forged ahead with a chaotic election that was seen as a test case for voting in the age of the coronavirus.

On Thursday, Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams sent his recommendations to Beshear on how to proceed with the primary in the midst of the public health crisis. A day later, the governor issued his order outlining procedures to be in place for the primary.

“Today’s executive order and regulations that will be created by the Kentucky State Board of Elections will allow all Kentuckians who are registered to vote for the upcoming primary to vote by mail through an absentee ballot,” Beshear said in a statement.

“While there will be significant education and work required, we are committed to making sure this election will be held in a safe manner while we are in this worldwide health pandemic,” he added.

Adams said Kentucky voters “across the political spectrum will be pleased with this plan to protect both democracy and public health.”

He praised the governor for “working in good faith” to ensure a “successful and safe election.”

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The agreement won quick praise from the Kentucky County Clerks’ Association. Its executive director, Bill May, called it “the right decision to make” for the safety of election workers and voters.

Beshear’s order says all Kentucky voters should use absentee voting by mail if they’re able to do so.

The state will create a secure online portal to allow voters to request that an absentee ballot be mailed to them. Voters will be required to prove their identity with personally identifiable information, Adams said. The state elections board will send a postcard to each registered voter informing them they can vote absentee by mail in the primary, the order says.

The order also instructs the elections board to take “all reasonable” steps to ensure the safety of poll workers when “direct voting (not by mail) is necessary.” That includes allowing in-person early voting to start June 8 and providing adequate personal protective equipment and sanitization materials, it said.

County clerks will be allowed to significantly reduce the number of in-person polling places on primary election day, Adams said.

Adams said the plan has “ballot integrity built in” while protecting poll workers and voters.

The bipartisan agreement between Beshear and Adams comes after Wisconsin held an election earlier this month. Wisconsin voters who didn’t get absentee ballots were forced to choose between voting in person or staying at home to avoid possible exposure to the coronavirus. Health officials in Wisconsin have said they identified at least seven people who may have contracted the virus from participating in the election.

In Kentucky, state lawmakers added language to legislation to ensure that both Beshear and Adams agreed on a plan on how the election will be conducted during the pandemic. Beshear vetoed the language but the GOP-led legislature overrode his veto.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.