Kentucky’s secretary of state introduced the state’s new online voter registration system March 16 during an event at Griffin Hall.
Alison Lundergan Grimes explained the new system to a group of students, faculty and regional political leaders during the first stop of the “Go Vote Kentucky” tour.
Partnering with Microsoft, the state of Kentucky has built a website with the stated goal of getting all of the state’s 4.3 million voting-eligible citizens registered.
The website can be found at GoVoteKY.com.
“Here in Kentucky, we have only two-thirds of Kentuckians actually registered to vote,” Grimes said. “Pretty grim statistic, although we are higher than the national average.”
Grimes said this is the latest step in the movement to bring voting access to all Kentuckians, a movement that Grimes said included ending discriminatory practices of the past.
“Making sure that we close this gap in voter registration is no different,” Grimes said. “That march that existed back in the 1960s in Frankfort for equal access to the ballot box continues. This is our effort to make sure we are making registration – the first step in the process – easier.”
Northern Kentucky University was the first stop on a statewide tour of college campuses encouraging people, especially students, to register in time for the May 17 primary election. The deadline to register to vote in the May primary is April 18.
Unlike Ohio’s open primary, which allows voters to ask for any ballot prior to voting, Grimes said Kentucky voters who are currently registered and affiliated to a political party cannot change for the primary. The deadline to change affiliation for the primary was Dec. 31.
“If you are registered right now as a Republican and you want to change to Democrat, or Democrat and change to Republican, you wouldn’t be able to participate in the May primary with that change of registration,” Grimes said. “If you change it now, you will be able to participate in the November election.”
In addition to registering to vote on the site, Grimes encouraged people already registered to use the site to update information to include a telephone number and an email address. This would allow voters to be notified if circumstances cause changes in polling locations.
“We had tornadoes in the eastern part of the state in 2012 when I first took office that caused us to have to relocate precincts, caused us to have to do outreach to make sure voters knew where they could go vote,” Grimes said. “If we have that information, we can send it directly to you to say, ‘Your precinct location which is normally here, has moved to here.’ So that’s why that information is very important.”
Grimes also discussed the potential for voter fraud, one of the concerns she has heard with online registration.
“When people say, ‘We’re so worried about the fraud that could occur,’ with people being able to register online,” Grimes said. “We’re not changing the rules. The rules continue to be the same as they are for paper. We’re making sure that everybody can play this game using online accessibility.”
The website launched on March 1. In the timeframe before it was formally introduced to the public on March 14, Grimes said 5,000 people had used the site. On March 15, the second day after the public launch, she said 2,200 people registered.
In addition to online registration, Grimes mentioned another initiative designed to increase voter participation.
Grimes would like to see Kentucky join 37 other states that allow early voting without an excuse. She said Kentucky House Bill 290 would allow that.
“We need to make it just as convenient for voters to go vote in person prior to an election,” Grimes said. “We have a bill that is narrowly tailored that is before the General Assembly that allows individuals to go vote without an excuse the time period we are already open for absentee for a certain category of people … we want that to be open to everybody.”
She believes this bill combined with online registration would increase voter turnout.
“The hope is this helps to strengthen the foundation of our democracy,” Grimes said. “More importantly, we need people to actually show up on election day if we are actually going to do better than 30 percent turnout in a general election. That’s not what democracy is all about.”
Kenton County Clerk Gabrielle Summe said the easier the process is, the more likely students will go through the process of getting registered and voting.
“I think the easier you make it – especially if you’re on a campus and you’re not close to home – the better it will be,” Summe said. “Registering to vote that way (online) makes it cleaner, makes it clearer.”
There is only one known glitch in the online voting registration system that sometimes occurs when registering on an Android device. According to Bradford Queen, director of communication, the issue is being worked on and they hope to have it solved quickly.