Moving Kentucky governor’s races to presidential election years gets nod from Senate committee

Sponsor says turnout would be higher, expenses lower

By: - January 10, 2024 2:31 pm

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, discusses his bill proposing a constitutional amendment to move Kentucky elections for constitutional officers, including governor, to even-numbered years. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

FRANKFORT — Kentuckians would begin electing their governors in presidential election years under a proposed constitutional amendment that advanced from committee Wednesday. 

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, sponsored  Senate Bill 10 — a measure that would set the stage for moving Kentucky elections for constitutional officers, including governor, to even-numbered years. 

If the General Assembly approves the change, voters would decide in November whether to make it part of the state Constitution.

Under the bill, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s successor would be in office for five years and a gubernatorial election would be held in 2032 — a presidential election year.

Chris McDaniel

McDaniel refuted the notion that Beshear’s November reelection was the motivation for filing the bill this session, saying it was “totally irrelevant.” He told the Senate State & Local Government Committee that he has filed similar bills throughout his time in the General Assembly. The Senate passed McDaniel’s legislation in 2020 but it did not make it out of the House. 

Speaking of the bill’s chances in the House this year, McDaniel told reporters he’s optimistic. “We’ve got folks over there who probably share more of my concern about voter participation and financial issues. … So, I’m optimistic that it’ll get taken up. It’ll probably be a couple of weeks but I’m optimistic that they’ll at least entertain it.” 

Presidential elections typically have higher voter turnout than elections in odd-numbered years. McDaniel said one of his goals is to increase voter participation and limit voter fatigue from regular election ads almost every year. 

November’s voter turnout was 38.1%. Kentucky’s turnout for the 2020 presidential general election was 60.3%

McDaniel also argued his bill would save money. According to a Senate GOP press release, the Legislative Research Commission found that moving Kentucky statewide races to even years “would save local governments approximately $13.5 million during the calendar year when a primary and general election would no longer occur.”

Kentucky already elects legislators, judges and most local officials in even numbered years.

Along with the office of governor, other positions that would be affected by McDaniel’s bill are lieutenant governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner, secretary of state, treasurer and auditor. Winners of the 2027 election would serve a five-year term before the transition to even-numbered year elections. 

When asked if he had heard from leaders in the executive branch about his bill, he said he “didn’t ask for their input.” Because the bill proposes a constitutional amendment, the governor would not be allowed to consider vetoing it. McDaniel said the bill would go straight to Secretary of State Michael Adams’ office and then be put on the ballot, if passed in the legislature. 

Cassie Chambers-Armstrong (LRC Public Information)

Besides Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jacequline Coleman, all elected officers are Republicans, and have been since the 2019 election. 

The bill gained several GOP co-sponsors, including Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson — running mate of last year’s Republican gubernatorial nominee and former Attorney General Daniel Cameron — and Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville — the running mate of another Republican primary candidate, former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft. Mills also chairs the Senate State & Local Government Committee and voted in favor of the bill Wednesday. 

Kentucky is one of a handful of states that have gubernatorial elections in odd-numbered years. 

The committee gave a favorable recommendation to McDaniel’s bill, with a party vote of 7-1. The lone no vote was Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-Louisville. She said Kentucky’s 1891 Constitution set elections for governor and statewide offices in off years to maintain a focus on state issues, rather than national ones, and “that the need for that has only increased over time.” 

“Nowadays with national division, with presidential elections lasting for years and eating up the airwaves, I think it’s really important that the people of Kentucky have space to focus on Kentucky issues and the issues that impact us here in the commonwealth,” Chambers Armstrong said.

 

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McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.

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