After loss, Kentucky GOP wants to move governor elections

A measure to align them with the presidential was filed on the first day of the state legislative session.
Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman (D) and Gov. Andy Beshear (D) wave to the crowd on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol following their public swearing-in ceremony in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Kentucky Republicans will debate a proposed constitutional amendment to shift elections for state executive offices to coincide with national presidential elections, just months after Gov. Andy Beshear (D) won a second term in a deep red state.

Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) filed the measure Tuesday, the first day of Kentucky’s legislative session. He said the measure would boost voter turnout after elections in which participation fell far short of midterm and presidential levels.

“I think what we see among voters is election fatigue,” McDaniel said in a statement. “We just finished a gubernatorial election where spending exceeded $44 million, resulting in endless campaign ads online, on our televisions and the radio, nonstop mailers in our mailboxes and even calls and tex messages.”

“In 2024, we will head right back into a presidential primary and general election. Giving voters a break from politics would be beneficial, especially as we continue to see increasing polarization,” McDaniel said.

The amendment would apply to the offices of governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner, secretary of state, treasurer and auditor. All of those positions are currently elected in the odd year before a presidential election, making Kentucky one of just three states — along with Louisiana and Mississippi — to hold regular statewide elections in that year.

In November, 1.3 million Kentucky voters cast ballots, a turnout rate of 38.1%, according to the State Board of Elections. That was slightly below the 41.9% who turned out in the 2022 midterms, when Sen. Rand Paul (R) cruised to an easy re-election; no competitive U.S. House races were on the ballot.

In the 2020 presidential contest, 64.8% of Kentucky voters turned out to vote, slightly below the 66.6% of national voters who cast a ballot, according to data from the U.S. Elections Project.

If McDaniel’s legislation passes, voters would get to decide whether to amend the state constitution to shift executive elections to the presidential election year, beginning in 2032, when Beshear’s successor would be ending a unique five-year term.

McDaniel also said shifting elections to even-numbered years would save the state about $13 million, the cost of running odd-year elections.

Once a reliably blue state, Kentucky has shifted to the right in recent years. No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of the state’s votes since Jimmy Carter in 1976, though Bill Clinton carried Kentucky twice with pluralities. In the last three presidential contests, the Republican candidate has topped 60% of the vote there.

Republicans hold state House and Senate supermajorities, both U.S. Senate seats and five of the state’s six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But Kentucky voters have no problem voting for Democratic governors. While Republicans carried every other statewide office in 2023, Beshear won re-election over then-Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) by a 5-point margin.

Kentucky has only elected two Republican governors in the last half-century. Both of those governors — Ernie Fletcher (R), elected in 2003, and Matt Bevin, elected in 2015 — lost their bids for re-election. The only three Democratic governors who have sought a second term since the state began allowing consecutive terms in the 1990s have all won eight straight years on the job.