Kentucky on Wednesday became the only state in the country with a Republican-controlled legislature to expand voting rights this year, as Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, signed a bipartisan law that cut against the push in many G.O.P.-led states nationwide to put up barriers to voting.
“When much of the country has put in more restrictive laws, Kentucky legislators, Kentucky leaders were able to come together to stand up for democracy and to expand the opportunity for people to vote,” Mr. Beshear said at a signing ceremony.
The law in Kentucky establishes three days of early voting in the state; introduces voting centers that would allow for more in-person balloting options; creates an online portal to register and request ballots; and allows voters to fix problems with absentee ballots, a process known as curing.
The reasons that Kentucky Republicans have diverged on voting rights range from the political to the logistical. For one, they had an easier sell: With sweeping new rules allowing the 2020 election to be held safely during the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans in Kentucky had one of their best cycles in years, with both Senator Mitch McConnell and President Donald J. Trump easily winning in the state.
And expanding voting access in Kentucky was a low bar to clear; the state had some of the tightest voting laws in the country before 2020, with not a single day of early voting, and strict limits on absentee balloting.
Republicans and Democrats alike in Kentucky have overwhelmingly supported and celebrated the bill, calling it a welcome bipartisan achievement. But voting rights advocates have been more muted, pointing to the legislation’s relatively limited scope and its mixture of measures, like the introduction of a short early voting period, as well as new restrictions heralded under the banner of election security. They caution that the proposal represents a modest improvement in a state long hostile to voting rights — a fact even conservatives have acknowledged.
“Kentucky actually had probably, until this point, the most restrictive laws in the country on voting,” said Michael Adams, the Republican secretary of state, who was the leading force behind the bill. “And that’s what we’re trying to change.”