Secretary of State Michael Adams speaks at WKU Town Hall


Michael Crimmins

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams came to WKU on Tuesday, Nov. 30 for a Town Hall event in Grise Hall.

Michael Crimmins, News reporter

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams came to WKU on Tuesday, Nov. 30 to discuss his involvement and the changes made in the 2020 election and to explain to students the importance of volunteering.

The event was sponsored by the Political Engagement Project, the Department of Political Science, the School of Media and GAPS.

Before his election in January 2019, Adams was an election lawyer, a  rare distinction and something that makes him well suited for the position.

“Unlike a lot of secretaries of states who tend to be politicians first, Secretary Adams is an election lawyer by trade,” Scott Lasley, political science department head, said. “So it’s hard to imagine somebody who has better academic preparations for the position he’s in.”

Adams said his previous experience as an election lawyer gave him credibility and helped him when he had to run an election during the COVID-19 pandemic, an election he said was unusual and unique.

Soon after he was elected the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed. After cancellations of sporting and public events, Adams approached Governor Andy Beshear about delaying the election.

“I approached Governor Beshear and I asked him to join me in delaying the primary election,” Adams said. “I met with the governor and asked him jointly with me to delay the election by five weeks. He immediately agreed.” 

They could delay the election because of a law that was modeled after a New York law that came about due to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“In New York, the mayor had the power to delay the election by some period of time due to a state of emergency,” Adams said. “Fortunately, when I was in state government in 2006 we were able to get passed an emergency powers law giving the governor and secretary of state the joint ability to change the time or place of an election.”

Adams and the governor held a joint press conference to announce the election delay. At the time they thought COVID-19 would be gone as summer began, Adams said.

“We signed this joint order to delay the election thinking we had solved all the world’s problems, but we also knew that in case we were wrong, in case we couldn’t fix everything by waiting, that we had some time to get our heads together,” Adams said. 

After seeing other state’s elections, Adams is glad to have delayed Kentucky’s election.

“During that period of time I approached the legislature and I asked for them to expand my powers and the governor’s powers together,” Adams said. “That was well received, democrats and republicans voted, nearly unanimously, to expand the power of the democratic governor and the republican secretary of state.” 

Beshear vetoed a part of the bill, which led to some strained relationships between the governor and Adams, he said.

“Fortunately he was overridden, democrats joined republicans to override the governor’s veto,” Adams said.

Once overridden, the secretary of state and the governor began to implement changes to the election including installing dropboxes, early voting and mail-in voting.

“In our primary [election] process the major change that we made was to expand absentee voting,” Adams said. “Coming out of this election it was safe, secure and successful.”

Voting locations were downsized not only because of public health concerns, but because of the lack of volunteers, Adams said.

“We normally have 3,796 precincts open in Kentucky, we were reduced to 180 voting locations last year because the poll workers quit and I didn’t have younger people to come replace them,” Adams said. “This is not sustainable, I’ve got to have help.”

He said it takes about 1,500 volunteers to manage the polls in Kentucky and it is getting harder to get those positions filled. In response to this, Adams helped change the law so that registered independents could manage the polls too.

“By law it used to be you had to be a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ to work the polls,” Adams said. “[By doing that] we were eliminating 10% of our eligible voter pool who could be poll workers.”

Near the end of the 45-minute town hall, Adams asked everyone to consider volunteering at the polls.

“I’m going to respectfully ask all of you to consider being a poll worker,” Adams said. “I need help, I can’t do this myself.”

News reporter Michael Crimmins can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @michael_crimm