Plan To Let Deployed Soldiers Email Ballots Stalls

Feb 21, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Kentucky soldiers deployed overseas won't be able to send election ballots back to the state via email, fax machine or any other form of electronic transmissions, at least for now, under legislation that has been revamped by Senate Republicans.

The Senate Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection removed that provision from a bill on Thursday before sending it to the full Senate for consideration.

Senate President Robert Stivers, the Manchester Republican who sponsored the measure, proposed the amendment striking electronic transmission of ballots in an effort to protect the integrity of elections and the anonymity of voters. He said he did so after concerns were raised about the potential for hackers gaining access to the ballots.

Twenty-four other states allow military personnel to return ballots by some form of electronic transmission. Kentucky allows ballots to return only by mail, and that would continue under Stivers' measure.

The Kentucky legislation has been given the designation "Senate Bill 1," signifying it is the Senate's top priority in the legislative session. With the state being home to Fort Campbell and Fort Knox, lawmakers typically rush to pass measures on behalf of soldiers.

Because Kentucky has no elections scheduled until next year, Stivers said there's no harm in taking time to review the security of electronic transmission systems. He called for such a review and for the findings to be submitted to lawmakers by late November. That would allow lawmakers to implement the provision before the state's next round of elections if the review warrants it.

At Stivers' request, the committee also removed a provision from the bill that would have allowed ballots mailed back by military personnel to be counted as long as they arrive by the time an election is certified, which in Kentucky is three days after Election Day. He said he wanted to avoid situations in close races in which candidates wouldn't know on Election Day if they had won.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the state's chief election official, said she would have preferred that both provisions remain in the bill. But she said it contains other language that will be helpful to military voters. That includes allowing ballots to be sent to soldiers electronically, so that they don't face lengthy waits for them to arrive at overseas posts. She said that was "a good victory" for deployed soldiers.

"Three steps forward is always a great thing," Grimes said. "I want to take five for our men and women in uniform. They deserve that."

Grimes said 121 soldiers from Kentucky didn't have their ballots counted in last year's election because they didn't arrive back in the state by Election Day.

Grimes reviewed military voting procedures during a trip to the Middle East in September, concluding that the current system is falling short.

The government watchdog group Common Cause of Kentucky raised concerns about the potential for hackers to influence elections. The group's chairman, Louisville attorney Richard Beliles, said he believes the integrity of elections could be at stake.

Bardstown resident Janette Smith urged the Senate committee to approve the measure, saying the ballot of her husband, Maj. Nicholas Cipparone, took a month and a half to arrive from the Middle East last year. She said it arrived one day before the Nov. 6 election.

"The very rights that my husband is defending were very nearly denied him," she said.