'Your vote is your power': Warren Co. officials hope early voting and shuttles help get people to the polls
As Kentuckians head to the polls to vote during the state’s general election, voters in Warren County now have more options and resources to cast their ballot. Local officials say they hope an additional polling station and a new voter education task force will help boost turnout during the state gubernatorial election and ahead of the national election in 2024.
Gone are the days when registered voters were required to cast ballots on one day, the traditional Election Day, while casting ballots at one polling location within their home precinct. Following a change in state law in 2021, voters now have more flexibility on when and where they can cast a ballot. And in Warren County, this will be the first general election at State Street Baptist Churchin downtown Bowling Green, after county officials decided to add the polling location earlier this year.
Warren County Clerk Lynette Yates said the best way to raise voter turn out is to provide residents with information.
“People are still getting used to this vote center model and the voting where you’re not voting precinct level,” Yates said. “So I think that we are still trying to get out more information of where you can vote, how you can vote—that kind of information.”
Until 2021, Kentucky was one of only six statesthat did not allow people to vote in person before Election Day, but that changed after state legislators passed laws that established three days of early, no-excuse, in-person voting. At a time when many Republican-led states moved to make voting more difficult, Kentucky stood out as an example of a bipartisan effort to making casting ballots easier.
The state legislature also allowed counties to create large vote centers where residents from any precinct in the county can cast their ballot. That replaced previous rules mandating that votes be cast in the specific precinct where a voter lived.
According to Yates, officials are optimistic residents in Warren County will utilize the extra days and flexibility to visit the polls and cast their votes.
“So that's what we suggest, is for everyone to take advantage of it while you can,” Yates said. “There's no wait at any of our vote centers pretty much ever.”
In Warren County, voters can now visit any of the 12 polling locations across the county on Election Day, with the historically Black State Street Baptist Church becoming the second downtown location in Bowling Green along with First Baptist Church. The county also offers five early voting locations for no excuse in-person voting three days before election day, although none of those sites are located in downtown Bowling Green.
Warren County Judge Executive Doug Gorman said community feedback was a factor in adding voting locations after low voter turnout in the previous elections.
“For every 100 registered voters, when only 20 show up, I don't know how we can make the changes we think we want to make, but yet no one wants to go to the polls.”
In Warren County, 13% of registered voters cast a ballot in the state's May primary election, according to the Kentucky Board of Elections. That's a number officials hope to see rise in the general election so to increase voter awareness county officials are investing in other resources to ensure residents are aware of important voting information and dates.
The Warren County Fiscal Court has also formed the county's first Election Education Task Force. The 11-member coalition is nonpartisan and was formed in August.
According to Judge Executive Gorman, the task force was established to ensure voters were registered, informed, and to provide help getting to the polls on election day.
“The first thing was get people registered to vote who have never voted before,” Gorman said. “The next phase of this is going to be where to vote, when you can vote, times you can vote, and more importantly how you can get to the polls.”
Reaching out to make sure everyone who wants to vote, can
The task force is co-chaired by First District Magistrate Scott Lasley and Second District Magistrate Tom Lawrence and is comprised of community members of various ethnic and racial ethnicities and backgrounds.
Fahira Nuhanovic, a member of the task force, said Warren County’s diverse population needed to be reflected within the task force.
“Our task force is very representative of the diversity that is present in the city or the county so I think that is a really important aspect to all of this,” Nuhanovic said.
It’s something that Johnalma Barnett, who also serves on the election education task force, said makes voting so important for Black and elderly voters.
“Bowling Green is a diverse community so everybody should have a say,” Barnett said. “You can't get anything done if only a certain segment of the people vote.”
According to Nuhanovic reaching Warren County’s international community could be the key to seeing a rise in poll numbers. Bowling Green is home to an international refugee resettlement agency and has a sizable population of immigrants.
“I would love to see more of our foreign population, people who have come here as immigrants and refugees and that have obtained their citizenship, Nuhanovic said. “I would love to see a bigger turnout in that.”
The task force has led community engagement at local diversity events by presenting voting guides and resources to community members and providing voting information through QR codes.
Using your "superpower"
Election Day will also feature coordinated shuttles using the city's trolleys that will pick up voters every 30 minutes at five locations in downtown Bowling Green, with drop-offs at both downtown voting centers. The shuttle will stop a Bowling Green Towers, First Baptists Church, Cherry Hall on Western Kentucky University’s campus, La Luz Del Mundo church, Parker-Bennet Curry Community Center and State Street Baptist.
Nuhanovic says the shuttle system is vital for some voters who do not have reliable transportation and could be expanded in future elections.
“We’re hoping that in 2024 we can kind of think about more of that issue,” Nuhanovic said. “Transportation is a big issue here in Warren County and a lot individuals are not able to get to voting centers because of transportation issues.”
And for Barnett, she sees voting as more than just simply casting a ballot and said she hopes other Warren County residents do too.
“Your vote is your power,” Barnett said. “That's your superpower. Use it.”