LOUISVILLE, Ky. — State Rep. Jason Nemes and several voters across Kentucky have filed a class-action lawsuit demanding there be more than one in-person voting location in several of the commonwealth’s most populous counties for the June 23 primary elections.
In the lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Kentucky, Nemes, a Louisville Republican, and voters from Jefferson, Fayette, Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties allege that “significant voter suppression will occur” as a result of each county having a singular polling location.
Defendants named in the lawsuit are the aforementioned county clerks and members of their counties’ board of elections, members of the Kentucky State Board of Elections, Secretary of State Michael Adams and Gov. Andy Beshear.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of close to 500 Kentuckians, Adams and Beshear pushed back the election date from May to June and are allowing all registered voters to mail in their ballots.
As Beshear’s administration made these changes, individual counties adjusted as well. In May, the Jefferson County elections center announced that the Kentucky Exposition Center at 937 Phillips Lane will serve as the county’s sole in-person voting place on June 23.
In the lawsuit, Nemes and other plaintiffs allege that the singular in-person polling places violate voters’ First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights and cause “the needless deprivation of their fundamental right to vote.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the move violates part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, saying singular polling locations will disproportionately hinder African American communities in Jefferson and Fayette counties, which hold roughly 60% of the commonwealth’s African American population.
The lawsuit points to Wisconsin’s primary elections, where a political spat between Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican-controlled legislature and conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court led to people standing shoulder-to-shoulder in long lines on Election Day.
The lawsuit claims that the lack of in-person polling locations in the state led to a decline in voter participation in various cities in Wisconsin, as people did not have time to wait in long lines or risk their health. Milwaukee County, which only had five voter sites, did see a drop-off, while voter turnout for the state itself was relatively high for a primary election.
The lawsuit also pointed to Wisconsin’s election that less in-person voting locations can cause a public health risk: At least 52 cases of COVID-19 in the state were tied to the April 7 primary elections.
The lawsuit alleges that limited in-person polling locations could especially put the health of black Americans, who have disproportionately been impacted by the coronaviurs, as well as older voters and voters with disabilities.
The plaintiffs are asking that a judge declares the use of single polling locations in counties that exceed 35,000 registered voters unconstitutional and to “enter permanent and preliminary injunctive relief to prohibit the use of a single polling location” in those counties.