Kentucky Public Radio Voter Guide: Secretary of State
This year's contest to be Kentucky's top elections officer pits incumbent GOP Secretary of State Michael Adams against former Democratic state Rep. Buddy Wheatley.
The office is tasked with overseeing and administering elections, and is the state's top business official and keeper of corporate records.
Secretaries of state across the country have been thrust into the spotlight in recent years after former President Donald Trump's false claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
Previous Elected/Government Experience: Served as legal counsel for several Republican officials including former Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, former president George W. Bush. Current Kentucky secretary of state (2020-)
Campaign Website: michaelgadams.com
Adams sat down for an interview for this voter guide. Excerpts are included below.
Adams said he’s done more to make it "easier to vote and harder to cheat" during his first term than his predecessors did in 200 years. Some of those policies, like expanding voting options during the pandemic, have won him bipartisan support, while angering the extreme wing of his own party.
“I forged a middle path and I’ve brought my Party along and I’m really proud that we’ve expanded voting days, we’ve transitioned to paper ballots, we made common-sense reforms that both sides of the spectrum embrace,” Adams said.
Adams has called out people who promote conspiracy theories about election fraud and voting machine companies “spying” on voters, including members of the state legislature.
“I’m the only thing that’s keeping the Republican Party sane on election policy in this state. I’m afraid that if I’m not a strong counterweight to a lot of the cookery out there then the cooks will prevail. They’re getting stronger and stronger in the legislature as they beat more incumbents and take more open seats. You do have a fringe wing that’s very anti-voting rights,” he said.
Adams advocated for an election reform law in 2021 that preserved expanded voting access in some ways: a short period when people can vote early with no excuse and allowing people to "cure" mail-in ballots that were improperly signed. Though Adams signed off on an even larger expansion of no-excuse early voting during the pandemic, the reform bill included far fewer days of early voting than what some advocates hoped for. He says he'd be in favor of adding more days in presidential election years.
“I don’t think we need weeks and weeks or a month. I do think we should seriously consider a few extra days. But first, I want to see early voting actually fully catch on,” Adams said in a recent interview.
Adams is currently defending political district maps drawn by the Republican lawmakers during Kentucky's most recent redistricting process. Democrats sued to block the maps for the state House of Representatives and Congressional districts, arguing they unfairly benefit Republicans and violate part of the Kentucky Constitution that mandates "free and equal" elections.
During an interview after the state Supreme Court heard arguments over the lawsuit, Adams said the legal system gives lawmakers broad authority to draw their own electoral maps.
“This is a matter in the constitution left up to the legislature. And they can use their own standards as long as they comply with the Voting Rights Act, et cetera,” Adams said.
Some advocates have called for creating an independent commission that would draw political maps, instead of partisan lawmakers.
Adams says forming an independent commission would violate a section in the state constitution that empowers legislators to redraw political boundaries.
Occupation: Retired Firefighter
Previous Elected/Government Experience: State representative (2019-2023), Labor Attorney.
Campaign Website: buddyforkentucky.com
Wheatley was interviewed for this voter guide. Excerpts are included below:
Wheatley agrees that claims of election fraud in 2020 were unfounded. He said as secretary of state he would stand up to election deniers and anyone who threatens democracy.
“We have a political environment in this country where there may not be the incentives, but what we don’t have in Kentucky is the civic engagement level that there are in a lot of other states,” Wheatley said.
Along with Indiana, Kentucky closes its polls on Election Day earlier than any other state in the nation. Once the clock strikes 6 p.m., only voters who have already lined up at a polling place are allowed to cast ballots.
Wheatley says more needs to be done to improve voting access in Kentucky, like adding more days of early voting and extending voting hours.
“I would promote still the two weeks of early voting. I would keep our polls open until 7 p.m. Our Constitution allows our polls to be open til 7 p.m. We’re still closing our doors on working Kentuckians at 6 p.m.,” Wheatley said.
Wheatley said that as secretary of state he would push for an independent commission to draw legislative and congressional districts, arguing the current redistricting process is too political.
“That would lead to a less partisan gerrymandered districts throughout the state and we think the middle would start to see, ‘oh there are candidates here that are more appealing to us and when you have a citizen-led redistricting commission you have more civic engagement,” Wheatley said.