County Court Clerk already preparing
McCreary County for 2022 election
McCreary County Court Clerk Eric Haynes is already planning for McCreary County’s election in 2022.
By Eugenia Jones
With Kentucky’s HB 574 officially signed into law, Kentuckians will see the first significant permanent changes in their state’s election process since 1891. Building on temporary changes implemented in 2020 due to COVID-19, HB 574 improves voter access and strengthens voter integrity.
Locally, McCreary County’s County Court Clerk Eric Haynes is already preparing for implementation of statewide changes during the County’s next election in 2022.
One of the most noticeable aspects of the new law is a provision giving counties the option to create county-wide voting centers where any voter in the county may vote, regardless of precinct. When voting centers were temporarily allowed in 2020 due to COVID-19, the result was shorter voting lines, more convenient voting, and less tax dollars spent.
With the new law in place, County Court Clerk Eric Haynes supports establishing six voting centers in McCreary County to replace the current eighteen voting precincts and has put together a plan that establishes voting centers at Pine Knot Elementary Building 2, Whitley City Middle School, Whitley City Firehouse, Wolf Creek Fire Station, Wiborg Fire Station, and Eagle Community Center. Voters would be allowed to vote at any one of the centers regardless of where they reside in the County.
“We hope to buy all new voting machines for the county,” Haynes said. “We have a total cost estimate of $297,000 to purchase machines for the current eighteen voting precincts. If we buy new machines for six voting centers, the cost drops significantly to a total cost of $80,000 to $100,000. The savings is tremendous.”
Haynes pointed to another advantage of having six voting centers by noting the election process would be more secure as there would be more poll workers at each center.
“Sometimes, we have a difficult time covering eighteen precincts with the required minimum of four workers,” Haynes observed. “With six voting centers, we could have more poll workers at each polling location to address the larger number of voters. We probably would be able to at least double the number of poll workers at each location.”
However, Haynes wants to make it clear that any plan for establishing voting centers throughout the county must first be approved by the Local Board of Elections and then by the State Board of Elections.
“I definitely want input from the public,” Haynes stated. “And anything I propose must be approved both locally and by the state.”
Those who prefer paper ballots will be happy to know HB 574 transitions Kentucky voters away from electronic voting machines and toward universal paper ballots. Ideally, the transition will consist of casting paper ballots that are scanned on optical scan machines that plug into the wall (not the cloud.)
This process allows ballots to be counted quickly (through the scanner) while at the same time leaving a paper trail in case of any irregularities.
“People seem to like paper ballots,” Haynes said. “We would use a scanner called a verity scan machine. People vote on paper in a booth and then come out to put their ballot in the scanner. Voting should go quickly if we use at least six to eight booths and a minimum of two scan machines. If we move away from precincts to voting centers, we would try to use at least that many booths and scanners.”
Haynes is pleased that HB 574 increases early in-person voting by three days and actually would like to see the number of days allotted for early in-person voting increased even more.
“I actually would like to see voting expanded to include at least a week of early in-person voting,” Haynes noted. “Early in-person voting is done at the Courthouse, and people seemed to like it.”
Haynes is also pleased the law now gives absentee votes the opportunity to prove their identity if their absentee ballot signature is questioned.
“I think it is great that we now are required to contact an absentee voter if there is doubt about their signature,” Haynes commented. “We’re not qualified to analyze handwriting, and people’s signature can change over time.”
Haynes confirmed the voter services portal which verifies the identity of absentee ballot applicants and allows absentee voters to get and track their ballots will remain in place under HB 574. Haynes also said his office will receive reports from the state showing removals of voters from the voting rolls. Under HB 574, the ability to remove nonresidents from the voter rolls has been strengthened at the state level. With the new law in place, KY’s Secretary of State’s office has been aggressive in cleaning up Kentucky’s voting rolls.
Haynes recognizes the importance of the voting process and is glad to see a law go into place which improves voter access and strengthens voter integrity.
“It’s everybody’s constitutional right to vote, and I want everyone to vote who is eligible,” Haynes declared. “This office (County Court Clerk’s) and the local election board always strive for integrity of the election process.”