Military online voting bill loses online portion; Grimes hopes senators will reverse the move

02/21/2013 02:08 PM

A bill that was supposed to be a bipartisan tone-setter of the session hit a rough patch in a Senate panel meeting Thursday morning, after Senate President Robert Stivers added several amendments.

Stivers, a Manchester Republican, is sponsoring the bill, Senate Bill 1, to allow military personnel serving abroad to return their election ballots electronically. It’s a top priority of Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The Senate Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee changed the language in Senate Bill 1 in an effort to address concerns of security threats to filing ballots via the Internet.

The Herald Leader’s Jack Brammer also reported that Stivers spoke with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office about the bill. Grimes hasn’t ruled out a potential challenge to McConnell in 2014.

The panel agreed unanimously to pass the legislation to the Senate floor unanimously. But the vote to add amendments changing the bill split down party lines. Democratic members of the panel, including Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said she would be filing a floor amendment to return the bill to the way it was envisioned by Grimes.

Grimes called for the bill last fall after returning from a trip overseas visiting troops. Before the legislative session began, Grimes appeared with Stivers, who gave it the symbolic number Senate Bill 1 and said it signaled the set of a new tone in Frankfort.

The committee heard more than an hour of testimony from Stivers, Grimes, and several county clerks who testified both in opposition to and in favor of the legislation with the online return provision.

Stivers said that he felt the amendment was appropriate to look at the integrity of the system. Included in the amendment, Stivers said was a provision to form a group to look at securing online return ballots – the task force would have to report back to the General Assembly with their findings by Nov. 27, 2013.

Grimes told the panel she hoped the full measure that was originally proposed would reach the floor of the Senate. After the meeting she told reporters that two of the amendments the committee approved would “weaken the bill.”

“Taking out the time limitation extensions and removing the return of the executed ballot via an electronic communications system weaken the bill,” Grimes said. “We want to make sure we have the strongest measure moving forward for our men and women in uniform they deserve that and I as Secretary of State will continue to fight for them.”

Grimes said in September 2012 that the current snail-mail system causes U.S. military personnel to question whether their votes can get back to Kentucky in time for the election.


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