(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Kentucky and Covington & Burling filed a federal lawsuit today over Kentucky’s failure to take appropriate action to ensure eligible voters can safely cast a ballot in the November general election during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky, the Louisville Urban League, the Kentucky State Conference of the NAACP, and several individuals.
The groups are challenging a number of requirements that would place Kentuckians at dire and unnecessary risk in order to vote, including a new onerous photo ID requirement that would increase Kentuckians’ risk of exposure to COVID-19 by forcing them to visit ID-issuing offices to exercise their right to vote, and the state’s failure to expand vote by mail beyond the June primary.
“If a commonwealth is a political community founded for the common good, then Kentucky is failing to live up to its name this election season,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Our success as a democracy, and as a union of states, hinges on the right of all Kentucky voters being able to vote safely, securely, and without risk to their lives. This lawsuit is particularly critical to African Americans who are contracting and dying at disproportionate rates from coronavirus. Barriers to the ballot will have a devastating impact on voters of color given the unprecedented public health crisis and its uneven effects.”
The provisions being challenged include:
- A photo ID requirement to vote in-person and by mail-in absentee ballot. Senate Bill 2 was recently enacted and requires voters to present photo ID to vote in-person, and it requires voters applying for a mail-in absentee ballot to include a copy of the voter’s photo ID with the ballot application. This unreasonably burdens the fundamental right to vote of Kentuckians who are practicing recommended physical distancing to protect the health and safety of themselves and their communities. The photo ID requirement is set to take effect July 15.
- A requirement that voters qualify for one from a narrow list of excuses to vote by mail before there is a COVID-19 vaccine — meaning the vast majority of eligible voters would have to physically go to their polling places, threatening both public safety and the health of individual voters.
These requirements disproportionately impact older voters, voters with disabilities, black voters, and voters with underlying medical conditions.
“Kentuckians should not be forced to choose between their health and their vote. Kentucky can and should protect voters by eliminating the photo ID requirement and allowing vote by mail in the November election because the spread of COVID-19 will remain a risk. Our lawsuit seeks sensible solutions to safely allow people to exercise their right to vote in a pandemic,” said Ceridwen Cherry, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
“Unless changes are made to election procedures for the November election, COVID-19 poses an ongoing and very real threat to Kentuckians’ ability to participate safely in that election. SB 2 will further deprive some Kentuckians of their right to vote,” said Corey Shapiro, legal director at the ACLU of Kentucky. “Low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, older people, and people with disabilities have difficulty obtaining ID because they cannot afford or cannot obtain the underlying documents that are required to get a government-issued photo ID card, and they will have similar difficulties providing a photocopy of their photo ID card to obtain an absentee ballot. Placing additional barriers to the ballot box is unjust at any time, but is unconscionable during a pandemic. We are now asking the courts to intervene before this voter suppression measure takes effect.”
“This year, the National Urban League’s ‘State of Black America’ report is focused on the state of the black vote with an emphasis on its heightened vulnerability to suppression. The report’s No. 1 policy recommendation calls for League affiliates like ours to do all we can to eliminate strict, discriminatory voter photo ID requirements. For this reason, the Louisville Urban League is called to join this lawsuit because we know the pursuit of liberty, justice, and economic empowerment for all hinges largely on the right to determine who will govern us and how,” said Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League.
“Race and the history of race in America is inextricably tied to the exercise of political power through the vote and voting rights. The Kentucky Conference of NAACP Branches stands with the NAACP and its countless branches across the country in working to strengthen our democracy through increased civic participation and the elimination of voter suppression. To leave Kentucky’s election procedures unchanged, including the implementation of SB 2 in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, would make it virtually impossible for poor, black, elderly, and Kentuckians with disabilities to exercise their cherished right to vote. We must stop Kentucky’s onerous — and now deadly — dangerous election rules from suppressing votes in November,” said Raoul Cunningham, president of the Kentucky State Conference of the NAACP.
“We applaud the expansion of absentee voting for the 2020 primary election, but those changes have not been made for the November 2020 election, which is soon to come. We urged the Kentucky General Assembly not to enact additional barriers when it passed Senate Bill 2 and again when it overrode the governor’s veto in April. The pandemic demonstrates yet another reason why such barriers make voting difficult for far too many. We are advocating for a Kentucky election process that ensures all citizens can vote without risking their health or that of their loved ones. We filed this lawsuit now so that common sense can prevail and there is time for adequate preparations to be made for the important November general election,” said Fran Wagner, president of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky.
The lawsuit, Collins v. Adams, was filed in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Kentucky.
Read the complaint here.