A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

With second-highest turnout, officials from both parties calling state’s primary election a success

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Top Kentucky officials of both parties are saying the recent primary election, which was perhaps the most unusual in Kentucky history due to changes made because of the coronavirus outbreak, was a success.

“This election, during the midst of a pandemic, had the second-highest voter turnout for a primary, in our history,” said Gov. Andy Beshear.

According to figures from the state Board of Elections, 29.2 percent of the registered voters participated, compared to 20.1 percent in 2016. 744,507 voters cast absentee ballots and another 274,363 voted in person, either early or on Election Day itself, making the voter total 1,018, 870.

The primary election in Kentucky was deemed a success by state officials. (Kentucky Today file photo)

Beshear, a Democrat, attributes the high number to three things: “No-excuse absentee ballot voting by mail, no-excuse in person voting, and restoring the voting rights of 170,000 people who deserved to vote.”

Those 170,000 are convicted felons who had completed their sentences, and whose voting rights were restored by Beshear, shortly after he took office in December.

As for the general election, Beshear said, “Yes, I think that we have to put those same conditions into place in November. Both, because we are still going to be dealing with this pandemic, and because of our successful election. Democracy is strengthened when more people vote.”

He added, more polling locations will be needed in the larger cities, although they can’t have the full number, due to a shortage of poll workers who are at a lower risk of contracting COVID-19.

Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, also said he was pleased. “If there were ever an election that was a challenge to orchestrate it was this one,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier with how things went. I couldn’t be prouder of my staff, the bipartisan coalition that I worked with; the Governor, the State Board of Elections, the county clerks of both parties all around the state. Everyone has a lot to be proud of today.”

The election was delayed a month on the request of Adams, in his role as Kentucky’s chief election officer, and concurrence of Beshear, as well as offering no-excuse early in-person and no-excuse absentee voting by mail for the first time.

Adams said he know there were two big challenges to be faced: training election officials to deal with changes in the rules and whether the public could be educated in time. “We actually had a great deal of success, not just with people returning the absentee ballots, but also correctly filling them out, signing in all the places they had to sign.”

Looking ahead, Adams said, “I don’t think we’ll have a vote by mail election for November. We may make that available, we’ll see. But I think regardless of any changes that I introduce we’ll have a much higher proportion of people voting absentee than we did previously.”

While absentee voting has been about two percent, “I think we’ll have more than two percent vote absentee in every future election as long as I’m here, just because people are now exposed to it, and they like that process,” Adams said.

The General Assembly will have the ultimate power on the absentee voting issue, he said. “I don’t have policy-making powers, I have emergency powers. I can only operate those if there’s an emergency.”

Adams says one factor in offering mail-in absentee balloting is the cost, which is an additional millions of dollars, and that postage alone was two to three million. “Even if we do it for November, the way we will be able to do that is because we have a very generous subsidy from Congress and the President to do that, under the CARES Act.”

After November, he says it would be up to the General Assembly to appropriate the money for mail-in balloting, which would reduce funding somewhere else, or have to generate a new revenue stream.

“As a matter of fact, today, July 1, my office is officially off the government payroll, in the sense that we no longer get appropriations from the General Assembly. We’re literally running on fumes,” Adams said. “We have fee income from businesses that renew their filings with our office, but we don’t get any money from the General Assembly.”

July 1 is the start of the state’s new fiscal year.

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