Kentucky 2020 Primary Election: Record-Breaking Turnout Predicted by Secretary of State

Jun 23, 2020

Social distanced voting booths set up and waiting for people to cast their ballots at the Barren County High School gym.
Credit Kevin Willis

It’s primary election day in Kentucky, and voter turnout across the state is expected to hit record levels. That’s due in part to the expansion of voting by absentee ballot. Most counties across the Commonwealth only have one polling location.

Kentucky Sec. of State Predicting Record-Breaking Turnout

Kentucky Sec. of State Michael Adams is predicting 1.1 million Kentuckians will cast a vote in today’s primary election. That would be about 32% of registered voters, which would break the state’s record for voter participation set in 2008.

Pulaski Primary Includes Six Voting Sites

Pulaski County saw 3,000 voters show up by midday Tuesday to cast their ballots in the Kentucky primary. Election Coordinator Mark Vaught said he expects a total of about 5,500 walk-in voters by the time the polls close at 6 p.m.

Vaught said Pulaski County has 56 precincts, but with fewer voting locations across the state because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sites were consolidated.

“We’ve got six voting sites. We’re the third largest county in the state. So we submitted a plan with six voting sites and it got approved. We’ve got one up north, one to the east, two to the south, one to the west and one in town,” he said. “We’ve got ‘em spaced out. They’ve not been overrun. It’s just been a constant flow.”

Vaught said he’s visited all six sites today and voting has been going smoothly. Pulaski County has about 64,449 residents.  

Warren County Voters Cast Ballots in Alvaton

A steady stream of voters in Warren County turned out to vote in Tuesday’s primary election. Frank Yates, whose normal polling precinct is on Cemetery Road, drove out to Phil Moore Park in Alvaton. It’s the only precinct open due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yates told WKU Public Radio that voting is his civic duty even in the face of a little adversity.

“It’s several miles further than my usual polling place, but it was a good experience,” he said. “ Thank goodness it’s not raining today, and all the people were very cordial.”

For others, driving to the polls poses more of a challenge, leading one group to step in. Megan Bailey is with BG Freedom Walkers, a local grassroots organization that recently formed to protest racial injustice. She worked with local churches to use their vans and buses to drive voters to the polls for free.

“It’s my belief the pandemic is being used as an excuse for voter suppression. They know there are people who won’t be able to get our here,” she said. “That’s why we took it upon ourselves to make it our duty to get people out here.”

Bailey said real change starts with voting and that’s why she thinks it’s important to get every voter to the polling place. Kentucky polls close across the state at 6 p.m. local time. Anyone who is in line by that time can cast their ballot.

Voting in the Barren County High School Gym

In Barren County, turnout has been described as light, but steady at the one polling place that is open. Clerk Helena Chase Birdwell said a small group of voters was waiting outside before the polls opened this morning at the Barren County High School gym. She said while many voters have told her they like being able to vote through the mail, she expects the fall general election to look more like it has in the past.

“I feel like we should be able to go back into our normal precincts, you know, polling locations for November,” he said. “I think that’s what the voters want to see, and so I’m hopeful that we’ll get back to those locations.”

Birdwell said more than 1,200 Barren County residents have cast “walk-in” ballots a her office over the past 12 days during the early voting period. The final results from Barren County voters will be released Saturday after the clerk’s office has counted all the ballots returned through the mail.

Birdwell said staff will announce tonight the results of walk-in voting that took place over the past 12 days, and Tuesday’s in-person voting at Barren County High School.

“And then, this coming Saturday, June 27th, we’re going to finish up the mail-in process," she said. "All ballots have to be received by mail by Saturday—they have to be postmarked by today’s date and we have to receive them in by Saturday, and we should have those final numbers on Saturday.

She said many residents have told her they appreciate the increased flexibility the state provided by allowing all registered voters to request an absentee ballot ahead of the primary.

Voter Turnout Expectations

Kentucky’s Secretary of State Michael Adams told reporters he has seen no signs that the single polling place is deterring voters.

“By making it so easy, we’ve had turnout that’s through the roof,” Adams said. “We’re already on track for at least 50 percent higher turnout than we normally have in a comparable cycle, a presidential primary year. So I think we should be judged by that. What’s the turnout? The turnout is through the roof.”

Adams said his office received a lot of angry calls yesterday as national figures speculated the limited in-person day-of options would suppress votes.

“I’m not bragging, I’m very relieved it’s going so well,” he said. “But there’s a narrative that if you’re a southern state you’re a racist backwater. I’m proud we’re showing we’re progressive here in the South and we’re helping people vote.”

Adams has also pushed for stricter laws requiring photo IDs to vote which opponents say will result in lower turnout, especially among Black and low income voters. The Kentucky legislature passed a law to that effect earlier this year but it won’t go into effect until the November General Election. --WFPL News

This post will be updated as we gather more voices and information.