Newly naturalized U.S. citizens urged to register, vote by Sec. of State Grimes and others

04/09/2016 02:03 PM

LOUISVILLE — After listening to speaker after speaker imploring them to participate in the electoral process on Friday, the prospects of celebratory cake and punch at a nearby reception weren’t enough to keep some of the 99 newly naturalized U.S. citizens from flocking to a table where they could register to vote.

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes was among those who stressed the importance of elections during a naturalization ceremony at the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, pointing them to the new state’s online voter registration portal as well as a booth manned by her staffers near the building’s entrance with the April 18 deadline to register to vote in this year’s primary elections looming.

“My hope is that we can end the crisis in our civics education that we see across the commonwealth, and that begins with each and every one of you,” she told the crowd of new citizens.

But that’s not her only hope with this year’s budget-writing session nearing sine die adjournment.

Grimes, like other constitutional officers in the state, is left waiting and watching as lawmakers negotiate a biennial budget.

The Democrat-led House and Republican-led Senate have hit a stalemate in budget talks, mostly due to Democrats’ insistence in shielding higher education from proposed cuts, which Republicans say are necessary to help make greater contributions to the state’s underfunded pension systems.

On Friday, House Democrats proposed 2 percent cuts over the biennium for postsecondary education while most university presidents signed a letter stating they can handle 4.5 percent cuts in the two-year spending plan and 2 percent in the current fiscal year, about half of the 9 percent and 4.5 percent cuts originally proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin.

Constitutional officers also have been roped into the budgetary tug-of-war, with Democrats hoping to protect those offices from spending reductions. Senate Republicans countered with an offer to only slash those budgets by 4.5 percent during the biennium while not addressing Bevin’s proposed 4.5 percent current-year cuts.

Grimes said she’s eager to see the General Assembly enact a budget this year, and she’s keeping an eye on how her office will be affected in any sort of resolution, particularly as Bevin ordered 4.5 percent quarterly allotment reductions for state colleges and universities in the current fiscal year. That decision that could be decided in a court challenge by Attorney General Andy Beshear on Monday.

She cautioned that Kentucky elections could be negatively impacted at a time when voters are set to elect their next president.

“We have done more with less over my first term and should we need to we will a second term, but at the end of the day when it comes to our elections, there’s simply nothing left to cut,” Grimes told Pure Politics after the naturalization ceremony.

“We’re going to go back to the days where we’re literally voting in boxes that were bound by locks as opposed to moving this state forward where we deserve to be. There is no excess funding when it comes to our State Board of Elections, and they are in dire, critical straits.”

The Kentucky Business One Stop portal has also been something of a political football in the budget. The House moved the system from the Finance and Administration Cabinet to the secretary of state, but the Senate reversed that move in its version of the budget.

Grimes said she’ll continue her work with the business portal “regardless of where it’s placed in the budget.” The system streamlines the start-up and other processes for businesses opening and operating in Kentucky.

“It’s a program I’m so extremely proud of,” she said. “I think it’s made a difference across hundreds of businesses here in the commonwealth and it’s actually helped grow our economy in the right direction.”

After urging listeners to participate in U.S. elections on Friday, Grimes said the state can do more to expand access to the voting booth.

One legislative proposal, House Bill 290, would allow registered voters to cast absentee ballots in elections without an excuse. Voters who are unable to reach polling precincts during elections are currently allowed to vote absentee.

HB 290 cleared the House on a 57-37 vote March 14 but has been stuck in the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee since March 18.

“We have to take that next step and make it easier for people to actually get to the polls on Election Day,” Grimes said. “Early voting is the answer, and I am hopeful that our clerks’ association and the leadership in the state Senate, especially the Republican leadership, will get the message from the people of Kentucky.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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