Local clerks pleased with passage of elections bill

Mar. 31—County clerks from the Owensboro region were largely supportive of the elections bill that cleared the General Assembly on Monday night.

The bill makes permanent election changes that were adopted out of necessity last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, House Bill 574 allows counties to regularly use voting centers rather than precincts, allows for some early voting and continues the state "portal" to request absentee ballots.

The bill also continues the use of ballot drop boxes for absentee ballots. The bill also contains provisions for removing voters from voter rolls, such as when a voter has moved out of state.

The bill next goes to Gov. Andy Beshear.

Daviess County Clerk Leslie McCarty said Tuesday that the bill gives clerks a plan to follow. In 2020, clerks had to come up with their own ideas for how they would run their elections and submit them to the state Board of Elections for approval.

"We, as clerks, had a lot of frustration because there wasn't a plan in place," McCarty said.

"Information about COVID would change and we had to change our plans," she said.

The bill "took all of the best things about the election of 2020" and made them permanent, she said.

"It allows early voting, voting centers if we want them, increased security and reduced workload (for clerk's offices) from the portal."

Hancock County Clerk Trina Ogle said early voting, voting centers and the absentee ballot portal made voting easier during last year's election.

Hancock County had three voting centers in November, which worked well.

"We had plenty of room, plenty of parking" and facilities accessible to people with disabilities, she said.

The bill allows early voting on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before election day.

"I would have liked it to have been a little longer," Ogle said. "We were able to move a lot of people in and out with early voting.

"Three days is still not an ideal solution with swing shift workers," she said.

McCarty said she would like to see early voting for four or five days before the election.

The county would use voting centers in a future election, but perhaps not as many as the six Daviess County used in November, she said.

"I think a lot of that is based on availability" of locations.

McLean County Clerk Carol Eaton said the bill "allows more people to vote and vote easier" and she liked that it allows for early voting. Three days of early voting was the right amount, she said.

"I don't think (early voting) should be a major strain on the clerk's office," Eaton said. "It costs money, and it's tiring.

"If (people) want to vote, people make time for what they want to do," she said. "If you truly want to vote, you're going to do it."

McLean County only used one voting center in November because every county was required to have at least one, Eaton said. McLean County has eight voter precincts.

"To me, the voting centers are more of an advantage for larger counties," Eaton said. "Here, most people can get to the precincts."

McCarty said the bill "gives us guidance."

"It's the opposite of the Hail Mary we were doing last year," McCarty said.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse