By Bruce Schreiner and Christina A. Cassidy | Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With only a designated polling place Tuesday for Louisville, a city of 600,000 people, voters who did not mail ballots or turn up early could face long lines in the Kentucky primaries, the latest to unfold as the pandemic triggers disruptions. Electoral elections unprecedented throughout the country.
The result of a competitive Democratic primary in the US Senate. USA It could be in the balance if participation on Election Day is hampered in Louisville, the hometown of Charles Booker, who has mounted a strong belated challenge against alleged favorite Amy McGrath.
“If Charles Booker barely loses, I think the integrity of that election is in question,” Republican Representative Jason Nemes said Monday.
The primary winner will go against Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who is not expected to see a serious primary challenge from Republicans, in November.
Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams said his long lines “cautiously optimistic” will not force people to wait hours before voting in Louisville, where the only in-person polling place for Election Day is in the state fairgrounds.
Early voting opened statewide two weeks ago. That, coupled with strong demand for absentee ballots, could keep people from waiting too long, Adams said Monday.
Nemes sued for more in-person polling places in the state’s most populous counties. A federal judge rejected the request days before the election.
Increasing absentee ballots could cause other waits on Tuesday, as some counties have said they will not cast vote totals before June 30.
Kentucky resorted to widespread absentee voting by mail in an agreement between the Democratic governor and Adams in response to the coronavirus outbreak. But many voters who do not request absentee ballots will go to the polls Tuesday.
Many states delayed their elections to handle an avalanche of voter cancellations and the consolidation of polling places. They also looked for time to pressure more voters to cast absentee votes.
New York also has a primary Tuesday and has consolidated some voting sites. Erie County, home to the second largest city in the state, Buffalo, will see 40% fewer voting centers.
State Election Board spokesman John Conklin said he hopes the consolidation plan will have a “minimal” impact on voter participation and access.
State poll workers were trying to carry 1.8 million ballots in absentia to New Yorkers. County election boards have been quick to process 11 times more ballot requests than for the 2016 primaries without additional state funding, Conklin said.
In Kentucky, despite waves of mail voting, some prepared for long lines and frustration.
“There will be a number of people who want to vote tomorrow but will be discouraged from voting because it is too difficult,” said Nemes.
That’s of particular concern to Booker, who is black and has a high turnout in Louisville. He said his campaign would “monitor” and is ready to mount a legal challenge if necessary.
“There shouldn’t have been just one place,” said Booker. “That will naturally deprive people of rights.”
McGrath attempted to join the lawsuit by demanding more than one in-person polling place on Election Day in Louisville and other population centers, but a federal judge denied his campaign’s motion to intervene. McGrath also lobbied to extend the deadline to request an absentee ballot.
For voters who cannot obtain absentee ballots, “now you are forced to queue at the only polling place in the midst of a pandemic,” said McGrath. “If you’re 82 years old, are you going to do that?”
In Lexington, the second largest city in the state with 323,000 people, the polling place is the University of Kentucky football stadium.
Richard Beliles, chairman of the Kentucky Common Cause board, said offering “so few polling places for the primaries is irresponsible and unacceptable, and unfortunately avoidable.”
Georgia delayed its primary election twice to give election officials more time to prepare, sending absentee ballot requests to every registered voter active in the state. That was not enough. When Georgia held its primary on June 9, voters in the Atlanta metropolitan area waited up to 5 hours. As in Milwaukee and Philadelphia, many of the lines focused on minority communities, raising objections from voting rights advocates.
Even in Nevada, where absentee ballots were mailed to every voter registered for the June 9 large-scale primary consolidation, it caused problems. The last Las Vegas voter to cast their vote did so at 3 a.m., eight hours after the polls were supposed to close.
In Kentucky, Adams said, “There will be lines: 30, 45 minutes, maybe an hour, maybe more.” He added: “We do not believe that anyone is deprived of their rights.”
At the Louisville Fairgrounds, after being directed to the Great Hall, voters will wait in line spaces at a distance of approximately 6 feet (1.83 meters) with chalk marks on the floor, before heading to cast their votes . Hand sanitizing stations are available when leaving the voting area.
Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, sent 218,404 absentee ballots to voters who requested them by June 15, according to the county clerk’s office. For comparison, about 125,000 people voted in the 2016 Senate primaries in Jefferson County.
The county also allowed early voting in person beginning June 15 at the state fairgrounds. Last week, nearly 7,500 people walked in and voted early Monday through Friday, county clerk spokesman Nore Ghibaudy said. Voters have also been allowed to vote early in person at the nearby county polling place since June 8.
More than 883,000 absentee ballots were requested across the state, with just over half filled and mailed, Governor Andy Beshear said. More than 88,000 Kentuckians voted in person early, he said.
Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Dylan Lovan and Piper Hudspeth Blackburn in Louisville and Marina Villeneuve in Albany, New York contributed to this story.