Kentucky Senate votes to bar college ID as a primary form of voter identification

‘A lot of theater,’ says Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams who warns the change could imperil state’s voter ID law.

By: - January 30, 2024 7:11 pm

Kentuckians could no longer use one form of photo ID at the polls without also filing an affidavit under a bill that the Senate approved Tuesday. It now goes to the House. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

FRANKFORT — Kentuckians could no longer use university-issued identification cards as their primary voter ID under a bill that cleared the Republican-controlled Senate Tuesday along party lines. 

Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams decried the legislation, Senate Bill 80, in a Tuesday interview with the Kentucky Lantern ahead of the Senate vote.

Looking to the upcoming presidential election, Adams said it is important to “have a law that actually is enforceable” and not struck down in court. He said photo ID laws in other states have been upheld if they permit university-issued IDs for proving a voter’s identity. 

Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, sponsored the bill limiting some forms of voter ID. (LRC Public Information)

“To me, this is a lot of theater and you got a sponsor, obviously, who wants to get attention for making a scene versus actually legislating like an adult and passing laws that will be upheld by courts,” Adams said. “That’s my goal.” 

Kentucky’s current photo ID law, which was passed in 2020, has faced some legal challenges, but Adams said the law has been defensible as it is. No lawmakers objected to including university-issued IDs in the law at the time it was adopted, he added.

All members of Senate GOP leadership voted in favor of Sen. Adrienne Southworth’s SB 80 Tuesday. When explaining his vote, Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, of Georgetown, said he has voted for and supported Adams in elections but that “doesn’t mean he’s right all the time.” 

“At the end of the day, as a member of the executive branch … whoever is in that office is charged with implementing the policy of the General Assembly,” Thayer said. 

The seven Senate Democrats voted against the legislation and 27 Republicans supported it. 

If passed, the bill would prohibit identification cards issued by universities and colleges to students and employees from being accepted as primary proof of identification at the polls. 

Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, said the legislation is not about “getting rid of ways for people to authenticate their identity,” but “identifying where we place weight on which IDs people are bringing” to vote. She previously argued such IDs are issued with less personal information than government-issued IDs used for primary voter identification, such as driver’s licenses. Her bill would permit voters to use a college ID at the polls, but they also would have to complete an affidavit saying they meet voting requirements.

Adams had previously warned Republicans against “gratuitously” alienating young voters by taking away their ability to use college photo IDs after the Senate State and Local Government Committee gave approval to the bill. Democrats frequently cited Adams’ opposition to the bill in their floor speeches Tuesday.  

While he is against Southworth’s bill, Adams said he supports House Bill 374, a similar measure in the House that would remove only debit or credit cards as a secondary ID form. Southworth’s bill would also remove credit or debit cards from being used as a secondary form to prove voter identity.

Secretary of State Michael Adams. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Matthew Mueller)

Referring to Southworth’s earlier testimony against the 2020 law, Adams said “it’s not accidental” that she is now sponsoring a bill that could potentially throw out the law. He previously shared Southworth’s past testimony online after the recent committee meeting. 

“This is someone who has been hostile to photo ID to vote her whole career,” Adams said. “It’s not an accident that now she’s trying to pass a law that would weaken our law and get it potentially struck down.” 

Southworth previously told reporters she did not have access to election fraud investigations when asked if she was aware of anyone fraudulently using a college ID to vote in Kentucky. Adams — who is the state’s top election official — said there is “no evidence of any fraud being committed with fake college IDs” in the commonwealth.

When asked by a reporter to respond to Adams saying there is no evidence of voter fraud with college IDs, Southworth said Tuesday “that’s really not the focus of the bill anyway” and lawmakers are being proactive. 

“It’s an honor system,” she said of the current system. “As long as you don’t do anything totally out of line, nobody’s going to blink.”

Southworth has openly denied election outcomes and pushed disinformation regarding election security. In past years, she joined future secretary of state candidate Steve Knipper, defeated by Adams, on a “Restore Election Integrity” tour and cited disproven claims. Adams and Southworth have long been at odds over election laws. 

Southworth has filed several bills aimed at changing elections laws this session, including a proposal to require voting systems to contain only parts manufactured in the U.S. and another to require a “risk-limiting audit” be conducted after polls close to certify an election.

Southworth also recently filed a resolution that would urge the U.S. Congress to repeal the REAL ID Act passed in 2005 that requires multiple forms of identification for a REAL ID driver’s license. The resolution argues there is a security risk because a national database has been created with personal information about those ID holders. 

When asked what he thought of Senate leadership moving Southworth’s bill forward, Adams said he still has respect for the Senate because of its previous support for the photo ID law and senators have the right to amend laws they pass. 

“My hope is the state as a whole won’t turn from a respected official who just got elected by a landslide again and instead turn to a crackpot who’s said some really outrageous, destructive things; has harassed our county clerks for years; harassed me and my staff for years,” Adams said. “I hope that she’s not the voice of reason on election issues in Kentucky.” 

Adams recently won a second term and was the state’s top vote-getter in November. 

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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.