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Kentucky’s Voter ID Bill Threatens Progress on Voting Rights

Progress Update

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Kentucky’s Voter ID Bill Threatens Progress on Voting Rights


Kentucky lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state legislature approved language on March 19 that would require a government-issued photo ID to vote. The bill now moves to Democratic Governor Andy Beshear for signature. Republican supporters want the bill to pass to prevent in-person voter fraud and ensure public confidence in elections, reported the Louisville Courier Journal. “Democratic opponents countered it would create an unnecessary barrier to voting, noting there have been zero confirmed incidents of voter impersonation in Kentucky.”

Since this Update was posted, Governor Beshear vetoed the bill and
on April 14, 2020, the legislature overrode the veto.

In a state where the governor has publicly opposed “unnecessary roadblocks” to voting, the passage of this bill would represent a step backward  in the struggle to expand voting rights. Last year, Governor Beshear restored voting rights to some 140,000 former felons whose crimes were of a non-violent nature. Now, however, many of them will face the added burden of replacing a prison identification card or papers with a government-issued ID during the COVID-19 pandemic, waiting along with many other citizens while government office schedules and operations are uncertain. Obtaining an ID is made more challenging for former prisoners, who are often separated from their most critical personal documents when they are incarcerated. It can sometimes be difficult to locate or replace them.

Voter ID is not generally considered a surprising or onerous requirement since many states already require a government-issued form of identity to vote. Government-issued IDs  are also needed for other tasks such as driving a car and boarding airplanes. Depending on when and how a voter ID requirement is introduced, however, the measure can be perceived as a voter suppression tactic.  As noted in our Voting Rights problem brief, voter ID laws can deny thousands of people the right to vote — denials that fall disproportionately on black and Latino citizens.

In 2020, not only is the president up for re-election, but so is long-time Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader. Both are Republicans. Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, also a Republican, believes the measure’s timing is critical. Adams told legislators, “Delaying its implementation past 2020 would create concerns over ballot integrity and possible foreign interference in the ‘high-profile’ U.S. Senate race this year involving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.”

Civil rights groups have loudly condemned the measure, including the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (NLCCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). NLCCR president and chief executive Kristen Clarke said in a Washington Post interview, “Lawmakers should be working on ensuring access to the polls in 2020, and this bill runs fully contrary to that.”

Additionally, ACLU Kentucky Legal Director Corey Shapiro said in an online statement, “Thousands of people who do not meet the newly mandated identification requirements will have to choose between exposing themselves to COVID-19 to obtain identification, or being forced to sit on the sidelines on Election Day…. It is unconscionable for politicians to move this legislation at a time when Kentuckians are not allowed in the Capitol and are losing their jobs, their small businesses, access to childcare, and more.”

The legislature is waiting to see if the governor will sign the bill. If he does not, supermajorities in both houses are poised to carry the measure into law.

Related Problem: Voting Rights

Written by Mary Jane Gore

Published on March 25, 2020
Updated on April 16, 2020

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Joe Sonka, “Voter photo ID bill passes Kentucky legislature, heads to Gov. Beshear’s desk”, Mar 19, 2020,, accessed Mar 22, 2020

Isaac Stanley-Becker, “As coronavirus creates ‘unprecedented obstacles’ to voting, Kentucky GOP takes step to add another: voter ID”, Washington Post, Mar 20, 2020,, accessed Mar 21, 2020

Legal Action Center, “Securing official identification for individuals leaving prisons and jails”,, accessed Mar 24, 2020

Governor Andy Beshear, Executive Order 2019-003, Dec 12, 2019,, accessed Mar 23, 2020

Michael Wines, “Kentucky gives voting rights to some 140,000 former felons”, New York Times, Dec 12, 2020,, accessed Mar 22, 2020

Joe Sonka, “Amended Kentucky bill to require photo voter ID would go into effect this year”, Mar 2, 2020,, accessed Mar 23, 2020

Corey Shapiro, “ACLU-KY statement on final passage of Senate Bill 2, Mandatory Voter Photo ID Bill”, Mar 19, 2020,, accessed Mar 23, 2020