A large majority of Lexington Power Poll members want to see most of the bipartisan changes made to Kentucky’s election procedures during this pandemic year made permanent, and they support Gov. Andy Beshear’s power to issue executive orders to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic is one of many aspects of American life that have become highly politicized in this bitter election year. Many poll members say political disagreements have strained their personal and family relationships.
Power Poll isn’t a scientific poll. But because it asks questions about issues in the news to a large group of metro Lexington’s public officials, community leaders and influencers, it offers interesting insights into the opinions of many of the people who run Central Kentucky.
This month’s poll drew responses from 104 of 206 active members, or 50 percent. (Only members who respond to at least one survey over several months remain active and continue to receive emails about monthly polls.)
The first question this month was about the way Kentucky’s primary and general elections were conducted this year to minimize spread of the virus. A bipartisan plan worked out by Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, and Beshear, a Democrat, expanded voting availability by, among other things, easing restrictions on voting by absentee ballot and offering many days of early voting access before election day.
Asked if they would like to see most of these changes made permanent, 89 percent of Power Poll respondents (92 members) said yes. Only eight members (8 percent) said no. Four members (4 percent) didn’t know or had no opinion.
But Don Blevins, the Fayette County Clerk who supervised this year’s elections in Lexington, cautioned that election systems and procedures are complicated. “I support many of the changes, particularly the relaxing of the nit-picky rules around acceptance of absentee ballots,” Blevins said. “The major changes for expanded absentee voting and for early voting are harder to implement than at first glance. And while they add convenience, they do not necessarily increase turnout.”
Since the pandemic began in March, Beshear has issued a number of executive orders at various times to try to limit the spread of COVID-19 when infection rates were rising. Those have included such things as forbidding in-person school instruction, limiting the size of public gatherings and closing or restricting certain kinds of businesses where conditions might contribute to virus spread, such as people congregating close together indoors for extended periods of time.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron and other Republicans have challenged some of these orders in state and federal courts, claiming they are unconstitutional infringements on individual liberty. For the most part, though, the court challenges have been unsuccessful.
Beshear has argued that his executive orders are necessary responses to a public health crisis. More than 230,000 Kentuckians have been infected with COVID-19, and more than 2,200 have died. As of Dec. 16, nearly 1,800 Kentuckians were hospitalized with the disease, 460 of them in intensive care.
But as the General Assembly prepares to begin its annual session in January, Republican legislative leaders have discussed changing laws to limit Beshear’s authority to issue such executive orders. They say lawmakers should be more involved in these decisions, even though the General Assembly is in session only 60 days in even-numbered years and 30 days in odd-numbered years.
Power Poll members don’t think limiting the governor’s power in this area is a good idea. Asked if they supported Beshear having this authority, 89 respondents (86 percent) said, “Yes, these actions are necessary for public health,” while only eight respondents (8 percent) said, “No, these actions infringe on individual liberty.” Seven members (7 percent) didn’t know or weren’t sure.
“The governor needs the power to impose restrictions or take other actions for public safety reasons,” said Mark Green, editorial director of The Lane Report, which covers Kentucky business news. “But he should seek input from legislative leaders and others in a position to credibly represent Kentucky resident viewpoints that might be different from his administration’s perspective. That is plain old smart politics.”
The final question this month asked if members’ personal relationships with friends and family members have been strained by political disagreements this year. Forty respondents (40 percent) said yes, while 31 members (30 percent) said no. Another 33 members (32) percent, chose a third response: “Somewhat, but we avoid talking about politics.”
“When given the opportunity to debate politics,” said businessman Alan Stein, “we have simply moved on to other topics.”