Beshear vetoes bill outlawing ranked-choice voting in Kentucky, but that’s not why

Republished from Kentucky Lantern

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a bill that received a late addition to outlaw ranked-choice voting in Kentucky. 

However, Beshear singled out another provision in House Bill 44 as the reason for the veto. That provision requires the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to annually furnish “lifetime Kentucky death records” to help the State Board of Elections clean up voter registration rolls.

In his veto message, Beshear said “lifetime death records is not a real term used or understood by the Department of Vital Statistics, so such records cannot be supplied. Instead, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services already provides the State Board of Elections with monthly death records. Therefore, House Bill 44 is not necessary, as the existing policy already provides more information than the legislation.”

The bill also requires the Administrative Office of the Courts to send a list of people who were excused from jury duty because they’re not U.S. citizens to the attorney general, the United States attorney of the appropriate jurisdiction and the State Board of Elections. The bill instructs the elections board to remove anyone on the list from the voter rolls within five days. Another provision prohibits the state from entering into any agreements that would require it to make efforts to register people to vote.

Rep. John Hodgson sponsored the elections bill that Beshear vetoed. (LRC Public Information)

The bill’s primary sponsor Rep. John Hodgson, R-Fisherville, responded to  the governor’s veto on social media by saying that the secretary of state’s office and the State Board of Elections had implemented a similar process as an experiment last year. Hodgson vowed that lawmakers would “gladly override this silly veto” when they return next week.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank multiple candidates for an office based on their preference rather than selecting one candidate. The method has gained popularity across the country as a way to combat polarizing politics. 

Maine became the first state to adopt the method in 2016. Alaska uses a system that pairs ranked-choice voting with a “Final Five” system, where multiple candidates advance out of a primary election to the general election regardless of party affiliation. 

The Senate adopted a committee substitute of the House bill that would outlaw ranked-choice voting, and the House concurred. 

“Any existing or future ordinance enacted or adopted by a county, municipality, or any other local governmental entity which conflicts with this section shall be void,” the bill says. 

However, several lawmakers objected that it was too early for Kentucky to ban ranked-choice voting.

 Before she voted against concurring with the Senate changes last week, Rep. Rachel Roarx, D-Louisville, said the ranked-choice method allows voters to consider candidates “more closely” based on their preferences and the House should consider further debate before ruling it out.

“How many times has someone told you, ‘Well, I would like an independent candidate, but they won’t get enough votes to actually enter into winning based on how people are registered and where their preferences lie?’” she said. “Now, I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong or anything, I’m just saying that our constituents should have the ability to express those concerns to us, and that is the debate that we should have.”

In the Senate the day before, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, voted in favor of the measure, but said he objected to the ranked-choice voting provision and argued it “is not something that’s been used in enough jurisdictions yet to identify whether or not it might actually be better.” This is his last session in the Senate, as he is not seeking reelection, but he said he had been working on a bill to pilot ranked-choice voting in Kentucky and did not file it. 

“I think prohibiting it before we have a chance to see how those pilots in different places around the country works is premature,” Westerfield said. “It’s my hope that if it turns out that tends to be a good way to elect people, the state of Kentucky would consider that down the road and it would undo and repeal this particular part of the bill.”

However, not everyone is open to the idea of ranked-choice voting in Kentucky. Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville said before voting in favor of the bill he was “glad we’re banning” the process.

“Election Day is there for a reason and winners are chosen on Election Day. You vote for the candidate and the candidate with the most votes should win. We shouldn’t be picking a second, third or fourth option. That is the process and that’s the way the process has always been done. that’s the way the process needs to stay.”

Republicans have an overwhelming supermajority in Kentucky’s General Assembly, meaning they can easily override Beshear’s veto. 


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