PAINTSVILLE — The Paintsville Rotary Club hosted Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams on Tuesday, Aug. 31, at Beth's Kountry Kitchen, hearing an explanation of changes that have already been made to Kentucky's election processes, how those changes affected the 2020 elections and whether or not our most recent election was secure amid widespread claims of election fraud and unverifiable results. Adams also detailed several new election reforms aimed at increasing voter access and creating even more secure elections.
Adams began with a brief introduction into what the Secretary of State's duties include — duties ranging from handling business filings, land records dating back to the founding of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and elections (including verification, voter registration and actually running the logistics of each elections).
"I came here three times in my campaign in 2018 and 2019, if you'd have told me when I got sworn in that it would have taken me a year and a half to come back, I wouldn't have believed you, but it's been that kind of year and a half, but I'm so glad to get to come back to Paintsville and I'll come back as often as you'll have me," Adams said. "I want to give you a status report on our election system, but first I want to tell you what I do for a living.
"The number one question I got, when I ran for this position is, 'what does the Secretary of State do,' so, I'll tell you, there's three main things: So, number one, I'm the secretary of the state, literally, I'm the custodian of records for 4.5 million Kentuckians," Adams continued. "Every time a bill is passed by the General Assembly, whether the Governor signs it or not, that comes to us, we've got land records in our office in the Capitol that date all the way back to 1792, when we split off from Virginia and became a separate Commonwealth. I've got other records, from various sources. The primary part of that is, I'm the person that verifies acts of the Governor. several times a day, the governor will send an executive order down the hallway to me ... I verify the accuracy of the signature ... then file that away ... Second, I'm the chief business official ... if you start a business in Kentucky, you file with our office."
Adams said those were more the procedurial aspects of his position, and that what he truly enjoys is his work as the commonwealth's chief election official — a passion that dates back to Adams' work at his national election law practices — including time as counsel to Vice President Mike Pence.
"I think the biggest part of my job, certainly the part I enjoy the most, is being the chief election official," Adams said. "Just briefly, my background, before I ran for this position two years, I had a national election law practice based here in Kentucky. I began it in Washington, D.C., where I had most of my career, moved back many years ago, and brought my clients and firm with me. I was counsel to three national committees and, also counsel to Mike Pence when he was Vice President ... all Republicans, really, are my client base ... but that gave me a lot of insight into how other states run their elections, some better than ours, some not, but that also gave me some perspective and some tools and ideas to borrow from to make sure that we could run our elections well in 2020."
Adams said that Kentucky had, in 2020, a "safe, secure and successful election."
"Let me give you just a quick take on 2020, and I'll tell you what we did in 2021 to keep the best of what we did in 2020," Adams said. "I'm pleased to tell you that we had, in 2020, a safe, secure and succesful election. It was safe — other states had spikes in COVID-19 cases coming out of their voting in person, we did not. That wasn't an accident. Our county clerks did an amazing job, our voters did an amazing job, working with each other in a polite and civil way, social distancing and getting everybody in and out. We had a secure election. A lot of folks were concerned we were going to have vote fraud — because we had some sensitive races in the 2020 election and also had some changes to our voting systems.
"People were concerned we'd have fraud — legitimate concerns. Unfortunately, not well founded," Adams continued. "We actually had a more secure election in 2020 than we had under the old rules that I inheritated. I'll give you a specific example. This was the first election in my lifetime, maybe in all of your lifetimes, we only had one instance of someone voting illegally or attempting to vote illegally. We had a gentleman in Owensboro who mailed in an absentee ballot and then went to vote in person ... he went in person, voted, then, the next day, we got his absentee ballot in the mail. We didn't count that second ballot and then we referred that fellow to the grand jury for prosecution."
That security could be attributed, in part, Adams said, to the issue he ran on, got elected on, and was most passionate about, which was photo ID voter laws and also his office's efforts to clean up voter rolls — citing lawsuits against the previous Secretary of State wherein she was ruled against, finding that Kentucky was found deficient in keeping clean rolls.
"That was the only attempt that we had in fraud. Number one, I was the only Secretary of State, during the pandemic to implement a new photo ID to vote law — it's the signature issue that I ran on, and won on. It's an issue that I felt strongly about, in terms of improving the integrity of our election system ... I think that deterred a lot of fraud that we might have had otherwise," Adams said, then attributing some of the reduction in fraud to his office's in-progress cleaning of more than 400,000 voters from the rolls, who were either deceased, moved away or ineligible to vote due to things such as felony convictions.
According to Adams, more than 100,000 voters have currently been removed from the rolls for the reasons mentioned — meaning it is now harder to cheat in the election and that it should make lines shorter as poll workers have less names to look through as they look for each voter.
These are just a part of the ways in which Adams' office has worked to improve our election — including the expansion of in-person voting, adding three extra days to the voting period, which should result in higher voter turnout, a bipartisan effort recently passed by the General Assembly, which will also serve to make elections more secure as there is less panic and rushing on voting day and easier oversight, saying "it's harder to orchestrate a vote buying operation when it's spread out over multiple days, and it's easier for law enforcement to monitor the election when it's smooth and spread out over multiple days, as opposed to one day of chaos." Adams also cited efforts to consolidate voting precincts, which are voluntary on a per-county basis, as well as a voter services portal that is now available online — allowing voter applications for absentee voting online with photo ID checks, allowing that process to now be done in approximately two minutes, and also includes the ability to track ballots much like any other mail shipment.
Adams said that being fair and non-partisan was an important part of his position, as it allows the people to more readily have a secure, convenient and fair say in how their government is ran and by whom.
"There is nothing that is partisan or ideological about having clean government records. I don't want the government to send stimulus checks to people that are dead, and I don't want them to send ballots to people that are dead," Adams said. "It's just good government."
For more information, visit the Secretary of State's website at, www.sos.ky.gov.