The2nd meeting of the Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government was held on Tuesday, September 27, 2005, at 1:00 PM, in Room 131 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Damon Thayer, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Damon Thayer, Co-Chair; Senators Julian M Carroll, Carroll Gibson, Alice Kerr, and Elizabeth Tori; Representatives Joe Barrows, Kevin D Bratcher, Perry B Clark, J R Gray, Mike Harmon, Mary Lou Marzian, Jon David Reinhardt, and Kathy W Stein.
Guests: Sharon Fields, Kentucky Disabilities Coalition.
LRC Staff: Judy Fritz, Erica Warren, Terisa Roland.
Senator Thayer asked for approval of the July 26, 2005 minutes, and they were approved. Senator Thayer said the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed in order to correct irregularities in the voting process, and required each state to formulate a plan to implement certain changes in the election process. He stated that the changes for Kentucky include replacing lever voting machines, improving voting education and training for poll workers, provisional ballots, and mandating that there be at least one voting machine in each polling place that is accessible to voters with disabilities. He introduced Sharon Fields the Executive Director of the Kentucky Disabilities Coalition to discuss how the accessibility requirement of the HAVA is being implemented.
Ms. Fields explained the background information. She said the Kentucky Disabilities Coalition has a contract with the State Board of Elections. The primary purpose is to the survey the polling places to make sure that they are accessible to people with disabilities. They also conducted an evaluation of the accessible voting machines. The results of the evaluation were handed out at the meeting. Also, the coalition provided training to precinct workers in disability awareness which will be updated before the end of this contract year.
Ms. Fields said there are approximately 2700 different voting locations throughout Kentucky. She said the county clerk offices helped with the survey which included looking at accessibility of parking, passenger drop off areas, the pass of travel for people with mobility impairment, the pass of travel to the entrance for people with visual impairments, entrance to the building, the hallway and the voting area itself.
In 1994, Ms. Fields helped the state pass a bill that required all polling places in Kentucky to be accessible to persons with disabilities.
Senator Tori asked if the recommendations include funding or if some of them were easily fixed. Ms. Fields replied that some can be fixed. Ms. Fields said HAVA included some funds for making places accessible and The Kentucky Board of Elections has money to help.
Senator Tori asked what percentage of voters, are handicapped. Ms. Fields did not know the numbers. Senator Carroll asked how many people with disabilities are not registered because of their fear of not being able to get to the polls to vote. Ms. Fields was not sure but that within Kentucky, there are 874,000 people with disabilities over the age of five.
Senator Carroll asked if the individuals with disabilities could be located by precinct in the state for the benefit of legislators that they may be interested in conducting a voter registration drive. Ms. Fields said there are statistics available of how many in each county but locating them is a private issue.
Senator Carroll asked about the new voting machines. Ms. Fields said there are four certified machines in Kentucky. One, has met all objectives for persons with visual loss and mobility issues. Two of them would not be accessible for all disabilities.
Senator Thayer said that HAVA is a federal act of legislation that the states are mandated to implement which also benefit state elections. HAVA requires that the accessibility of the polling places be in place by January, 2006. Though there is not an election until May, 2006, he hopes every county will work towards meeting that goal.
Representative Clark mentioned that he is working on a piece of legislation for the session that deals with a constitutional amendment to increase the homestead exemption. He said Kentucky has one of the lowest homestead exemptions in the United States. He asked for the committee's help on the issue. Senator Thayer suggested having the bill on the next agenda for Tuesday, November 15, 2005.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 2:00.
A tape of this meeting and all meeting materials can be found in the Legislative Research Commission library.