- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Legislation aimed at making the opportunity for early voting a Kentucky staple for any registered voter was approved by a House panel Monday with backing from Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The goals of expanding the voting period for all voters are to increase turnout and to make elections smoother for county election officials by spreading out the workload, Grimes said.

The bill would allow early voting by any Kentucky registered voter at least 12 working days leading up to the Sunday before election day. The early voting period would include two Saturdays. The majority of counties now offer absentee voting on Saturday, Grimes said.

Local election officials could choose to allow even longer periods of early voting.

The expanded voting time would make it easier for people to fit voting into workdays, she said. Nearly 31 percent of registered voters went to the polls in last November’s election in Kentucky.

“We don’t believe that 30 percent of eligible registered voters showing up on election day is what democracy is all about,” Grimes, a Democrat, said in touting the bill.

Voter turnout has been below 50 percent of registered voters in four of the past five general elections in Kentucky. The exception was in 2012, when the presidential election drove a nearly 60 percent turnout. In 2008, another presidential election year, turnout was 64 percent.

Currently, early voting is allowed by absentee balloting for Kentucky voters who will be away from home on election day or have other valid excuses to cast ballots ahead of time.

The bill was approved by Democrats on the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. Two Republican members abstained.

Early voting would be allowed by any registered voter in a county clerk’s office or another place designated by local elections officials.

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, a Republican, made a pitch for Kentucky’s early voting bill in appearances with Grimes on Monday. In Tennessee, where early voting started in the 1990s, about half the turnout for August primary elections comes from early voting, he said.

Early voting can reduce lines on election days and allows officials to fix any glitches that might show up ahead of election day, he said.

“What we have found is that people love the convenience of knowing they can vote early,” Hargett said.

The Kentucky legislation would not affect procedures for mail-in absentee voting

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The legislation is House Bill 290.

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