FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Senate President Robert Stivers pledged Thursday to file legislation on Friday to ensure Kentucky soldiers deployed overseas can cast ballots back home.
The designation "Senate Bill 1" has been reserved for that proposal, signifying it is the Senate's top priority in the current legislative session. But the legislation hadn't been filed as of Thursday, and the filing deadline is Friday.
Stivers, the Manchester Republican who will sponsor the bill, said one provision of the measure, which would allow soldiers to return absentee ballots via email, was still up in the air on Thursday. That came as election officials from the secretary of state's office and county clerks weighed in. He said a decision on whether to include that provision was imminent.
"We're having discussions to make sure we've got everything in conformity," Stivers said. "We've got several drafts floating around up here."
The government watchdog group Common Cause of Kentucky raised concerns about hackers potentially accessing email and influencing elections. The group's chairman, Louisville attorney Richard Beliles, said he believes the integrity of elections could be at stake.
"We're definitely in favor of the soldiers being able to vote," Beliles said. "We'd like to have the ballots out to them in email but mailed back through the postal service."
Secretary of State Alison Grimes wants the provision included in the bill allowing soldiers to return ballots via email, said her spokeswoman, Lynn Sowards Zellen.
"In Kentucky's November 2012 general election, 121 military and overseas ballots were not able to be counted because they did not arrive until after the polls closed," Zellen said. "Grimes believes this is 121 ballots too many, and Kentucky law must be amended to allow sufficient time and methods for our men and women in uniform to meaningfully exercise their fundamental right to vote."
Grimes said email is the most reliable method of reaching soldiers serving overseas. And she said security controls, including electronic signatures, can ensure ballot integrity.
Grimes visited soldiers and reviewed military voting during a trip to the Middle East in September. She said she concluded that the current system was falling short.
"With available existing technology, concerns regarding privacy and security can be adequately addressed," Zellen said on Thursday. "Indeed, 24 other states already allow military and overseas voters to return ballots via email or the Internet."
The proposal has widespread support in the Kentucky Legislature. House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he would have given it the designation "House Bill 1" if the Senate hadn't claimed it first.
Stumbo said he has let Grimes know that if for some reason the measure doesn't get filed in the Senate on Friday, he would introduce it in the House.
"I'd be more than happy to file it on her behalf over here,"