A group of Black elders affiliated with Black Lives Matter Louisville is calling for more in-person polling places during the November General Election after most Kentucky counties only had one polling place during this year’s primary election.
Rhonda Mathies, a Louisville activist and member of the Voter Engagement Brigade, said that many older Black voters didn’t want to cast ballots by mail and at the same time had trouble accessing the city’s lone polling place at the state fairgrounds.
“We don’t want to see our vote suppressed, and that’s what they’re going to use especially in the Black community. So give us our polls, we need them in our neighborhood,” Mathies said.
Kentucky has yet to determine how the November election will be conducted. The decision will ultimately be made by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who will have to get the approval of Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams after a new law passed by the Republican-led legislature.
Beshear has called for all voters to be able to cast ballots by mail during the pandemic and for the state to have more polling places available than in the primary.
Adams has said he doesn’t want to have universal mail-in voting again, saying that it would overwhelm the postal system and local county clerks.
Sharon Horton, a member of the Voter Engagement Brigade, said that many older Black voters had trouble casting their ballots by mail.
“Some of the seniors did not realize you have to have two signatures on there, so their votes didn’t get counted,” Horton said.
“We’re going to have to have more churches involved in getting our seniors out. This is a very critical time that we need to get out and vote if we want to get who want elected in.”
Though turnout in Kentucky’s primary elections was up, some election experts worry that the rapid shift from in-person voting to mail-in voting disenfranchises poor and older voters.
Still, in-person voting requires poll workers. And election officials say that the pandemic has put a squeeze on the state’s bench of poll workers, many of whom are older and are especially at risk of the effects of the virus.
Secretary of State Adams and election officials across the country have called for younger people to sign up to become poll workers.
But Mathies, with the Voter Engagement Brigade, says that’s another facet of the issue: the need to get more people engaged in the election process.
“The Black vote matters,” Mathies said. “We need to come out in numbers and let them know, we’re not going just accept anything. We have demands, we want to be recognized and we want to be part of the solution, not seen as part of the problem.”
Sarah Powers, a thirty-year old Black woman, said that she has never voted before, but will this year.
“Not voting can get somebody elected that you don’t want elected. Voting, whether you believe that it matters or not, you will have a chance to make a difference,” Powers said.