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Ky. secretary of state candidates debate ills of partisanship and ways to increase turnout

On left, headshot of man smiling with red tie and dark jacket outside. On right, man smiling with grey suit light blue tie, light blue background.
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Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams on right, former Democratic state Rep. Buddy Wheatley on left.

Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams and former Democratic Rep. Buddy Wheatley squared off in a heated debate over who should be Kentucky’s top election official.

During the debate hosted by the Kentucky League of Women Voters on WLKY, Wheatley and Adams attacked one another, calling each other out for alleged professional failings — a major theme of their previous debate on KET as well.

Wheatley, who lost his bid for reelection to his Covington-area seat in the state House, called out Adams for continuing on as a named partner at political law firm Chalmers, Adams, Backer & Kaufman while serving as Kentucky's chief elections officer.

“When you have your law practice who represents partisan political operatives who are election deniers outside of the state like Mr. Adams does, it doesn't quite square with saying you're not for election deniers,” Wheatley said.

Adams’ firm received nearly $30,000 from the political group #WalkAway Campaign PAC for “legal services.” The PAC was founded by hairstylist Brandon Straka, who was charged for his participation in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The firm has also been paid for legal services provided to several Republican U.S. representatives who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Adams has previously said he doesn’t represent any election deniers, calling the assertion “totally false.”

Adams has fought election denialism and misinformation since the 2020 election. Adams called his victory over two prominent election deniers during this year’s GOP primary election a victory against “misinformation and misdirection.”

“We’re not a bunch of backwoods folks that will believe anything, gullibly, that’s given to us. We’re independent thinkers,” Adams said in May.

Polling still shows a majority of Kentucky voters still believe Biden “stole” the election from former President Donald Trump.

Adams said at the debate his job is to be nonpartisan.

“All I can do is be an honest guy that counts the votes,” Adams said. “I've worked with Andy Beshear closely. He's repeatedly praised my performance in this job, praised my integrity in this job. I've been willing to work even with Mr. Wheatley, for that matter — work across the aisle. And that's why we have the results we have. That's why we're the only red, southern state making voting easier.”

Adams supported a bipartisan bill in 2021 that added three no-excuse, in-person voting days ahead of each election. He has also supported a 2020 bill that requires voters present a photo ID in order to cast a ballot.

Former Rep. Buddy Wheatley and Secretary of State Michael Adams at the debate hosted by the League of Women Voters on WLKY for Kentucky's general secretary of state election.
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LPM
Former Rep. Buddy Wheatley and Secretary of State Michael Adams at the debate hosted by the League of Women Voters on WLKY for Kentucky's general secretary of state election.

Wheatley attacked Adams for not supporting even more early voting days, which he proposes to expand to a two week period. Wheatley also called for same-day voter registration.

“Many people don't realize Kentucky still has one of the strictest voter registration deadlines, 28 days before the election,” Wheatley said. “There's plenty of technology that can handle same day registration. It will increase access to the polls and will have greater voter turnout, better democracy.”

Adams said he believes these measures will not improve voter turnout and will put undue burden on poll workers and increase wait times on Election Day.

“The vast majority of things that he's talking about even he doesn't believe in because he didn't push him when he was in the legislature,” Adams said.

The two candidates also agreed on several policy positions. Both want to restore voting rights to more of the people convicted of felonies in Kentucky. They also agreed that the state should open up its primaries to independent voters, which accounts for an increasingly large number of Kentucky’s registered voters.

When he was in the legislature, Wheatley sponsored a bill to open primary elections to independent voters, but it did not gain traction in the GOP-led state House.

To find out more about the secretary of state candidates’ ideas, check out the 2023 Kentucky Public Radio Voter Guide here.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.

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