Response to the call for absentee voting in Tuesday’s primary election has been strong, with Warren County Clerk Lynette Yates saying that her office has mailed out 23,789 ballots, but concerns remain about having only a single polling place in the county on Election Day.
While the large number of ballots mailed to voters who have been encouraged to mail them in or drop them off at the courthouse has been a chore for Yates and her staff, it still falls short of a typical primary election turnout.
Yates said close to 30,000 county residents cast votes in the last primary election. A similar turnout for this election could mean thousands showing up at that one polling place – Phil Moore Park – between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“We could get 8,000 to 10,000 voters at Phil Moore Park,” said Tracy Harkins, a Warren County resident and member of the statewide The Women’s Network that advocates Democratic Party principles. “We’re concerned that people will see enormous lines and simply not vote.”
Yates and her staff have tried to avoid such a possibility, promoting mail-in voting as the safest way to participate in an election during the coronavirus pandemic.
She has also made preparations for a rush of last-minute voters. Yates said drop boxes for ballots will be available at the courthouse and at Phil Moore Park on Tuesday.
The actual in-person voting could be a laborious process.
Yates is expecting long lines at the lone polling place, where the county clerk’s staff will have 10 voting stations set up inside the park’s gymnasium.
“Everyone will need to observe social distancing, and we will have to wipe down the voting stations after every voter,” she said.
Another difference this year is that official results won’t be available on election night. Yates said any absentee ballots postmarked by June 23 will be accepted and tallied, meaning official results probably won’t be announced until June 30.
The push for mail-in and drop-off absentee voting was a bipartisan strategy worked out by Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, and Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams.
Adams called the revolutionary process “unprecedented but necessary” and said holding a traditional election simply wasn’t possible in these times.
The secretary of state has drawn fire from members of his party who aren’t comfortable with mail-in voting and believe it can lead to vote fraud, but Adams said a number of safeguards, including notices being mailed only to registered voters, have helped make the process as safe as possible.
Safety isn’t as much of a concern as accessibility for Laura Harper Knight, regional organizer for the Bowling Green branch of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth organization that promotes progressive issues.
“We’ve known for a long time that voting by mail is much more accessible,” Knight said. “We want the election to be open. But the one obstacle is only having one polling place. I hope most people voted by mail, but voting in person is the only option for a lot of folks.”
Knight said many people, primarily elderly residents, may not have easy access to the GoVoteKY.com website that has been used for confirming identities and ordering absentee ballots.
“Internet access is a huge problem,” Knight said. “We’ve heard from folks who’ve said they don’t have access. With broadband internet not being available in many parts of Warren County, that’s a problem.”
Adams, who is working to clean up Kentucky’s voter rolls and institute new voter identification rules to improve the integrity of the state’s elections, said the increased absentee voting in the primary isn’t likely to be repeated in the November general election, although he did say it’s “hard to project what November will look like.”
One local resident and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth member, Megan Adkins, would like to see mail-in voting continue.
“I’m originally from Oregon, and we voted by mail for years,” she said. “I think it can increase the inclusiveness of voting.”
Adkins thinks the coronavirus-imposed rules of this election could turn out to be a good thing.
“I think voting by mail can be beneficial,” she said. “You have the opportunity to go over all the candidates and their platforms before voting. Some good things could come of this.”