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Kentucky Secretary of State candidates weigh in on early voting, 2020 election results, and gerrymandering

Left to Right-Democratic Candidate Buddy Wheatley-Republican Candidate Michael Adams
Stu Johnson
Left to Right-Democratic Candidate Buddy Wheatley-Republican Candidate Michael Adams

Kentucky’s race for secretary of state this year pits incumbent Republican Michael Adams against former Democratic lawmaker Buddy Wheatley.

Adams said he’s done more to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat during his first term than his predecessors did in 200 years.

Some of those policies have won him bipartisan support while angering the extreme wing of his own party.

“I forged a middle path and I’ve brought my Party along and I’m really proud that we’ve expanded voting days, we’ve transitioned to paper ballots, we made common-sense reforms that both sides of the spectrum embrace,” said Adams.

The Paducah native clerked for a federal judge, served as legal counsel for several Republican officials including former Governor Ernie Fletcher, former president George W. Bush and former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens.

Challenging Adams in November is former Democratic state Representative Buddy Wheatley, a fourth-generation firefighter who retired as fire chief of Covington.

He said more needs to be done to improve voting access in Kentucky, like adding more days of early voting and extending voting hours.

“I would promote still the two weeks of early voting.  I would keep our polls open til seven p.m.  Our Constitution allows our polls to be open til seven p.m.  We’re still closing our doors on working Kentuckians at 6 p.m,” said Wheatley 

Adams also says he wants to add more early voting days, but only in presidential election years.

“I don’t think we need weeks and weeks or a month.  I do think we should seriously consider a few extra days.  But first, I want to see early voting actually fully catch on,” said Adams. 

As Kentucky’s chief elections officer, the secretary of state is in charge of administering elections with local county clerks.

The process has become fiercely political in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud after the 2020 election.

Adams has called out members of his own party for spreading misinformation about voting. He said he’s doing his part to ensure fair elections in Kentucky.

“I’m the only thing that’s keeping the Republican Party sane on election policy in this state.  I’m afraid that if I’m not a strong counterweight to a lot of the cookery out there then the cooks will prevail. They’re getting stronger and stronger in the legislature as they beat more incumbents and take more open seats. You do have a fringe wing that’s very anti-voting rights,” said Adams.

 Wheatley agrees that claims of election fraud in 2020 were unfounded. The challenger said as secretary of state he would stand up to election deniers and anyone who threatens democracy.

Wheatley said voter turnout remains a challenge, partly because of negative views about politics and some citizens may feel there’s no firm reason to vote.

“We have a political environment in this country where there may not be the incentives, but what we don’t have in Kentucky is the civic engagement level that there are in a lot of other states,” said Wheatley. 

This year’s election takes place as Democrats are suing to block new district maps for congressional and legislative seats.

They argue Republican lawmakers drew the maps to unfairly benefit G-O-P candidates.

Wheatley said that as secretary of state, he would push for an independent commission to draw legislative and congressional districts.

“That would lead to a less partisan gerrymandered districts throughout the state and we think the middle would start to see, ‘oh there are candidates here that are more appealing to us and when you have a citizen-led redistricting commission you have more civic engagement,” said Wheatley.

Adams says forming an independent commission would violate a section in the state constitution that empowers legislators to redraw political boundaries.

Election Day is November 7th.

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Stu has been reporting for WEKU for more than 35 years. His primary beat is Lexington/Fayette government.
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