Effort to move Kentucky’s statewide elections to presidential years moves forward in legislature

Supporters say the change could eliminate ‘voter fatigue’ while opponents argue less focus would be given to Kentucky elections

By: - January 17, 2024 6:21 pm

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, speaks with reporters after the Senate passed his bill for a constitutional amendment to move Kentucky’s statewide elections to presidential election years. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

FRANKFORT — The Senate passed legislation Wednesday that moves the state a step closer to holding its elections during presidential election years.

Senate Bill 10 proposes a constitutional amendment allowing Kentucky elections for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and other constitutional officers, in even-numbered years. Senators voted 26-9, with Republican Sens. Adrienne Southworth, of Lawrenceburg, and John Schickel, of Union, voting with Democrats against the measure. 

The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, has attempted to get the bill passed previously, first filing it in 2013. He  used his notes from 2014 on the Senate floor Wednesday. 

“Certainly, I had the ability to juggle a lot of things at one time, to include making sure that I had cast my ballot, and so I fail to see why a lot of my friends on the other side of the aisle have such a lack of faith in the ability of the voters of the Commonwealth to juggle multiple issues at the same time,” McDaniel said on the Senate floor Wednesday, referring to casting ballots while he was in the U.S. Army. 

The Senate passed McDaniel’s legislation in 2020 but it did not make it out of the House. McDaniel said he feels there is momentum for the bill in the House this session. 

While some Democrats argued that the bill was politically motivated after Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won reelection in November, McDaniel has refuted that because of his long history of supporting the bill. Nevertheless, if recent politics do change how House members feel about the amendment, McDaniel said he welcomes the support. 

“I’ll take support for whatever reason people want to support it,” McDaniel said after the Senate adjourned. 

McDaniel said he wants to increase voter participation and limit voter fatigue from frequent election ads almost every year. 

Presidential elections typically have higher voter turnout than elections in odd-numbered years. For instance, the voter turnout in Kentucky’s recent November statewide general election was 38.1%. Kentucky’s turnout for the 2020 presidential general election was 60.3%

McDaniel also argues moving the elections would save money. A previous Senate GOP press release said 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.”

Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, right, speaks in favor of a bill from Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, that proposes a constitutional amendment allowing Kentucky elections for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and other constitutional officers, in even-numbered years. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

Southworth said on the Senate floor that if lawmakers wanted to address reducing the cost of elections, they should consider other methods before “reducing the focus on our state government.” 

“The theme word right now has been ‘voter fatigue,’ and I really take a big issue with this because I think, first of all, it’s not interrupting American citizens’ lives to have to go vote. This is, after all, a country created of, by and for the people,” she said. 

A few Democrats also spoke against the bill. Sen. Robin Webb, of Grayson, said many who were not “a landowning white male” did not have the right to vote until recently and argued against limiting “the opportunity to vote in any capacity.” 

Webb also called for “meaningful campaign finance reform,” if lawmakers were concerned about a barrage of political ads. 

However, McDaniel’s bill has the support of Senate Republican leadership, including Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, of Georgetown, who was a co-sponsor, and Senate President Robert Stivers, of Manchester. 

“People don’t like voting three out of every four years,” Thayer said in a floor speech. “Kentucky’s one of only five states that elects its constitutional officers in an odd-number year.” 

Other states with major off-year elections are Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia.

The bill affects the offices of 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. 

Kentucky does elect legislators, judges and most local officials in even numbered years.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.