Should Kentucky Elections Be Held During Presidential Years?

Jun 28, 2017

Credit WKU Public Radio

If approved, the proposal would extend the terms of Kentucky’s next governor and other constitutional officeholders by one year, giving the elected officials five-year stints.

Elections for Kentucky’s constitutional officers are now held during odd-numbered years.

Rep. Kenny Imes, a Republican from Murray, said he proposed the bill to save counties money on elections and break up the nearly constant barrage of elections in Kentucky.

“I just think it makes economic sense, that’s my primary motive in it,” Imes said. “I think you get more voter interest, you don’t get all the hoopla going on, constant stir up.”

Kentucky is one of five states — including Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia and New Jersey—that hold statewide elections in odd-numbered years.

The bill would move the currently-scheduled election in 2023 to 2024, bringing it in line with elections for U.S. president, Kentucky’s six congressional districts and 100 seats in the state House of Representatives.

Gov. Matt Bevin and state Republicans on Election Night 2016.
Credit J. Tyler Franklin

Opponents have called it a ploy to bring Kentucky’s down-ballot races — which until lately favored Democrats — in line with federal elections, where the Kentucky electorate has skewed Republican in recent decades.

Joshua Douglas, an election law professor at the University of Kentucky, said the move could increase voter turnout for state elections, which have been poorly attended in recent years.

“I think that is bad for democracy. Anything we can do to increase turnout is a good thing in my view,” Douglas said.

Only 30.6 percent of the 3.2 million voters registered in Kentucky at the time cast ballots in the 2015 election that selected Gov. Matt Bevin and other constitutional officers.

Bevin won the governorship with 52.5 percent of the vote, though the 511,374 Kentuckians who voted for him equal about 16 percent of registered voters.

By comparison, 59 percent of 3.3 million Kentucky voters cast ballots in last year’s presidential election. President Donald Trump won the state with 62.5 percent of the vote, equaling about 36 percent of registered voters.

Douglas said moving the state contests to presidential election years might make voters more informed and less fatigued.

“My view is that if we do it all at once when people are talking about policy and political issues, then you’re going to have higher turnout with a more informed political electorate as well,” Douglas said. “They’re not feel like they’re coming out to vote so often that it’s hard to keep up.”

The bill has been proposed several times in recent years and has been pre-filed for next year’s legislative session, which starts in January.