FRANKFORT – Presidential election years may draw the most voters, but here in Kentucky, the mid-term election cycle is the one that features the most candidates. All told, there are nearly 7,500 people running for office this November at the local, state and federal level.
That’s quite a bit more than Kentucky had during its first election. There were only nine counties when the commonwealth joined the United States in 1792, and voters selected just four groups of officials that year: electors, representatives, sheriffs and coroners. The electors were the ones who then chose Kentucky’s first senators and governor.
In 1799, our second constitution scaled elections back, giving the governor or the county court the authority to fill local positions. Only the sheriff had term limits, while the remaining offices at the local level were considered lifetime appointments.
That’s the way it remained for 50 years, until our third constitution changed course and significantly increased the number of elected offices on the ballot. Our fourth and current constitution kept this format intact when it was adopted in 1891.
In modern times, the last major change to Kentucky’s elected offices came in the mid-1970s, when voters approved a constitutional amendment that aligned our judicial branch with its federal counterpart. Among other things, this included taking away the judicial responsibilities of county judges.
Since then, there have been other, smaller tweaks made to our electoral system. Those include moving legislative elections to even-numbered years – which greatly helped that branch gain independence from the governor – and allowing statewide constitutional officers like governors to serve two consecutive four-year terms.
Elections were streamlined in the 1990s so that voters and office-holders alike get a break one year out of every four, and in the early 2000s, family court judges were formally given constitutional status.
Speaking of the constitution, voters have approved more than 40 amendments since 1891 and have rejected nearly 40 others.
There is a chance they could add one more this year, but that remains in doubt pending further court rulings. The amendment – known as Marsy’s Law – is designed to give victims more of a voice in the legal system, but a circuit judge has ruled that the ballot question is too vague. Votes will still be counted, but it will be up to a higher court to determine if the amendment will ultimately be approved, if it gains enough support from the public.
It is too soon to say how much of the public will turn out to vote on November 6th. During a meeting last week of the General Assembly’s State Government Committee, an official with the Secretary of State’s office said that a little less than 50 percent of registered voters went to the polls in the last two mid-term elections.
Those were held in 2014 and 2010, when candidates for the U.S. Senate were running, so this year’s turnout may be lower without that race this cycle. If this year’s election mirrors 2015 and 2011, when candidates for constitutional offices were seeking new terms, turnout could be closer to 30 percent.
A welcome trend designed to increase voter participation is a push to make it easier for oversees voters and those in the military to vote by absentee ballot. According to the Secretary of State’s office, more than 2,100 absentee ballots have been sent to Kentucky voters in several dozen states this fall and in more than 100 countries.
One of that office’s legislative proposals for future elections is to remove the requirement for a qualified excuse to cast an absentee ballot in person. Such a move would make it easier for voters to fit this civic duty within their schedule, which in turn would hopefully increase overall turnout.
If you are registered but are unsure of your polling place, the state Board of Elections (Elect.ky.gov) can help. Election ballots for each county, meanwhile, can be found here: http://apps.sos.ky.gov/electionballots/. Our county clerk’s office is also a wonder resource if you have more specific questions.
With the November 6th election arriving next week, it is good to remember a line from Kentucky’s first constitution, because the wisdom of Kentucky’s founding fathers remains just as true today as it was then: “All power is inherent in the people.”
If you have any questions about this issue or any other affecting our community or state, you can reach me by email at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov. You can also leave a message on the General Assembly’s toll-free message line, which is staffed during normal business hours. That number is 800-372-7181, and for those with a hearing impairment, it is 800-896-0305.