Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams (right in blue tie) chats before a state House committee hearing on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Frankfort, Ky.

(The Center Square) – Kentucky’s chief elections officer had some advice for a Congressional committee looking at the federal government’s role in voting rights and election reform.

Secretary of State Michael Adams testified Monday before the U.S. House Committee on House Administration and discussed the bipartisan voting reforms Kentucky implemented as part of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. That included expanding absentee voting and allowing no-excuse walk-in early voting, a first for the state.

Those changes, needed at the last minute because of the emergency, were then the basis of permanent reforms the General Assembly passed earlier this year. 

The hearing took place as voting reforms have become a hot topic across the nation.

Across the country, state legislatures have passed voting reform bills that would require voters to show identification and change how voters can request an absentee ballot and turn it in to be counted.

Democrats in Washington are seeking to roll back efforts they say Republicans in statehouses are approving because they will make it harder for some people, especially minority populations, to vote.

Adams in his opening remarks urged Congress to approach the subject in a bipartisan manner.

“I understand the concern many of you have with state legislatures acting in a partisan fashion in passing election legislation, and I would encourage you to avoid doing the same thing yourselves,” he said.

He also called on Washington to let the states act. In Kentucky, the changes came about as Adams, a Republican, worked with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to reform elections.

Adams noted that similar initiatives took place in Louisiana and Vermont this year.

“Kentucky knows best what’s best for Kentucky,” he said. “And I would urge you to let Kentucky be Kentucky, let Louisiana be Louisiana and Vermont be Vermont, and respect the laboratories of democracy that lead to innovation in a decentralized election system.”

However, Democrats have expressed concerns about the outcomes a decentralized system can produce.

In her remarks at the start of the hearing, Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-California, said the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government the authority to “preempt” state laws.

She said the framers of the Constitution feared that state lawmakers would take actions that lead to unequal representation, including gerrymandering, that would go unabated unless Congress was allowed to step in.

Voter suppression efforts increased, she noted, after the Supreme Court ruled parts of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional eight years ago.

“State legislatures around the country have passed a wave of voter suppression efforts, including strict voter ID laws, improper voter purges and increasingly limiting opportunities to access the ballot,” she said. “And this pattern has only further escalated since the 2020 general election.”