Kentucky Officials Dispute National Criticism of Upcoming Primary

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Kentucky election officials are disputing criticism from national figures about today’s state primary, saying strong vote-by-mail and early turnout in the wake of a bipartisan deal should alleviate any long lines at the polls. WFPL has more:

LeBron James, Hillary Clinton, Stacey Abrams and several other national figures say they’re worried that Kentucky will have too few polling places during the state’s primary elections on Tuesday, leading to voter suppression. But local election officials and experts say their fears are overblown.

Most Kentucky counties will only have one polling location after officials expanded mail-in voting to all eligible voters during the coronavirus pandemic.

In turn, local election officials reduced the number of in-person polling sites to reduce the number of poll workers who could be exposed to the virus and encouraged people to vote by mail.

A close Senate primary is drawing attention and leading some national figures and celebrities to allege voter suppression:

The concerns about Kentucky from national figures arose after the Washington Post published an article warning that the state was bracing for “possible voting problems” amid high voter turnout.

LeBron James tweeted,“This is SYSTEMIC RACISM and OPPRESSION. So angry man.” In response to the article, Hillary Clinton tweeted, “This is voter suppression.” And Louisville native Jennifer Lawrence tweeted, “This is voter suppression. Don’t let that stop you.”

One well-regarded election expert is saying that the wide availability of vote-by-mail means he doesn’t expect long lines in Kentucky like those seen in Wisconsin, Georgia and elsewhere unless there is record turnout – but he thinks that is unlikely because so many voters have requested mail ballots:

Josh Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky, who has advocated for adding more polling sites in the state’s most populous counties, says it’s unlikely an unmanageable crush of voters show up to vote in person.

“If we do see those kinds of lines it’s because we’ve had turnout that is so massive that no one could have possibly predicted…80% turnout in a primary, which has never happened ever,” Douglas said…

But after expanding mail-in voting to all eligible voters — something that hasn’t happened in Kentucky before — many, if not most, voters will cast ballots by mail during the primary elections.

According to the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office, nearly 890,000 Kentuckians requested a mail-in absentee ballot — that’s about 25% of the almost 3.5 million registered voters in the state.

That’s already higher than the 20.6% voter turnout Kentucky had in the last primary election when both a U.S. Senate race and the presidency were on the ballot.

Counties have also been offering lots of early voting opportunities:

On top of that that, by the end of the weekend a total of 88,507 voters had cast ballots early, in-person. Many counties, including Jefferson, the state’s largest, also had early voting on Monday.

Jared Dearing, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said that there may be “some lines” on Tuesday, but that every election does.

“The hope here is that we’ve relieved as much of the stress and pressure off of the election day system by having people avail themselves of the absentee ballot and in person voting,” Dearing said.

There is some question whether voters who didn’t receive their mail ballots will show up in person:

It is still unknown how many people who requested absentee ballots in Kentucky ended up mailing them in. Officials have acknowledged reports from individuals saying they never got a ballot or got an incorrect ballot.

The State Board of Elections passed a regulation on Monday allowing voters who requested, but never received, mail-in ballots to cast one in person.

Dearing said the state is trying to balance voter access and security.

“We’re not hearing widespread reports of voters not having received their ballots yet, but if that is the case, we want to make sure that we’re ensuring those voters have access,” Dearing said.

Under the new regulation, voters will be able to appear at their county polling location to vote in person. Election officials will be able to cancel the absentee ballot request in the voter registration system.

The controversy about Kentucky’s primary is a little different from previous states’ disputes, given the bipartisan nature of the deal to postpone and restructure the Bluegrass State’s voting process. Here’s hoping that local officials’ confidence is well-placed and today’s voting goes smoothly as hoped and planned. Stay tuned …

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