Bill would give independents more options

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State legislator's bill would allow independents to vote in primaries

By Stephen Lega

Jodie George wants more people to have their voices heard in Kentucky's electoral process.

"It's important that everyone is allowed to vote," she said, "and anything that increases public participation is the right thing to do."

To that end, George spoke with State Rep. Jimmy Higdon about allowing independent voters to participate in primary elections. George said many states around Kentucky allow registered independents to vote in primaries.

"That vote is as important as any party vote," said George, who is the chairwoman of the Marion County Republican Party.

Higdon liked what he heard from George and he has prefiled a bill (BR24) for the 2009 session of the General Assembly that would allow independents to participate in partisan primary races.

"It's an interesting concept, and I know it's working in other places," Higdon said.

Twenty-three states allow independent voters to participate in their primaries or caucuses.

To George, it's an issue of fairness.

"My goal is that everybody's vote gets counted," she said. "Right now, we're not counting the independent vote in the primaries."

According to Marion County Clerk Karen Spalding, there are 12,386 registered voters in Marion County. A vast majority of those voters, 10,315, are registered Democrats, 1,718 are registered as Republicans and 353 are registered as other, meaning either independents or for smaller parties.

Statewide, 2.9 million Kentuckians are registered to vote, and 191,050 of them are listed as other by the Secretary of State's office.

Under existing state law, independents do have a few opportunities to vote in primaries, such as non-partisan races with more than two candidates.

An example was the 2006 district judge's race in which incumbent Jim Avritt Jr. had two challengers, Amy Sullivan Anderson and Lisa Nally-Martin. Avritt and Anderson were the top vote-getters in the primary and, as a result, they faced off in November. Anderson won that race.

If Higdon's bill wins approval, independent voters would be allowed to declare which primary (Democrat or Republican) they wanted to vote in when they arrived at the polls.

While 21 states will allow voters to cross party lines during primaries or caucuses, Higdon's bill does not go that far.

Before BR24 has a chance to become law, however, it has to get out of committee first. Higdon said the bill would be assigned to the Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee.

If the bill does pass the committee, it would then have to win approval in the full House of Representatives, and then the process would start again in the Senate. If it gets out of the Senate, then it would be up to the governor whether or not to sign the legislation into law.

The General Assembly is scheduled to convene Jan. 6. Since 2009 will be a short session of the General Assembly, legislators will have just 30 days to consider legislation. In even numbered years, legislative sessions last 60 days.

Last week, Higdon indicated the bill could be facing an uphill battle.

"I do think there will be a lot of people leery of this bill," he said.

  Other bills prefiled by Hidgon  

BR79 - This is a bill that would place restrictions on robo-calls during political campaigns. Robo-calls are prerecorded political messages.

The bill would require either the message or a live operator to state within the first 30 seconds the name of the candidate or organization on whose behalf the call is being made and who is paying for the call. Robo-calls would be banned to any phone number on the federal do not call list.

Violations of the law could result in fines of $5,000 per violation.

This is similar to a bill Higdon prefiled before the 2008 regular session.


BR84 - This bill would raise the limits on claims and counterclaims in district court from $1,500 to $3,000.


BR278 - This bill would allow members of the General Assembly to perform marriages.