The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our schools, churches, groceries, retailers, restaurants and seemingly every aspect of life. It should not be surprising that it also changed how we vote.
What is surprising, perhaps, is how smooth and comfortable the unfamiliar process of a largely mail-in election seemed.
As with any change this dramatic, there are objections and vocal skeptics.
Yes, having a single voting place on election day in each county is inconvenient for many – particularly those who choose to disregard pleas about going online to request a ballot or who ignored the convenience of early voting opportunities offered every weekday.
But it wasn’t an attempt to suppress voters or keep the poor disenfranchised. It was a measured approach to find a fair and reasonable election process in the face of a global pandemic.
And those who want to scatter seeds of distrust about voting integrity obviously have little familiarity with safeguards and security built into the system. You have to wade through a series of questions online to receive a mail-in ballot, signatures on inner and outer ballots are checked against voter rolls, people coming to the polling place have IDs checked as usual and the completed ballots are locked securely away in a metal box that requires three keys to open – ensuring that no single person ever has unfettered access to the documents.
For the average voter with no political ax in the grinder, it seems many people voting absentee for the first time found the process much less stressful and rushed than voting at a neighborhood polling place.
From the comfort of your home, you could take time examining the names and pondering your choice of candidates. There was time to consider each person and even do some research before blackening in the appropriate square.
People who did visit the polling place in the County Government Building on Election Day found no significant lines and reported a smooth, professional reception.
For a process that had to be reinvented on the fly by the secretary of state and state Board of Elections, then taught to county clerks and local boards of election in 120 counties, it went amazingly smooth by most accounts. There’s a lot of praise and thank yous to share.
That doesn’t mean it could not be more effective.
A one-size-fits-all system is a quick solution but not necessarily the best one. One precinct might be fine for tiny Robertson County or even a reasonable geographic footprint such as LaRue or Meade counties. But it doesn’t work so well in metropolitan areas such as Jefferson or Fayette and physically larger counties such as Hardin that require voters to drive from West Point, Colesburg or Upton to cast a ballot. Perhaps the number of precincts could have been based upon a 1 per 25,000 residents or similar ratio of registered voters.
The process also needs a more rapid means to provide results. Kentucky is known for being first in the nation to post results in presidential and other races of national interest. Our residents are accustomed to knowing quickly how their votes counted. Waiting a week lends fuel to questions of distrust about integrity and security of the process.
But this COVID-response election system certainly has positive qualities that should be considered for permanent adoption by the state. Creating a process that’s more convenient and providing voters more options while cutting the cost of staging an election just makes sense.
The General Assembly needs to embrace election reform and begin working immediately with Secretary of State Michael Adams and Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration to take what was learned in an emergency and make it work going forward.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.