It’s great that so many celebrities are worried about voter suppression in Kentucky for our primary this year. LeBron James and others fired up the issue on Twitter over the weekend because Lexington and Louisville each have only one in-person polling site on Tuesday due to COVID-19 concerns; Lexington at Kroger Field and Louisville at the Kentucky Exposition Center. It’s a bad look for the two most populous and diverse cities in Kentucky, and we have to hope that enough people voted early or with mail-in voting to avoid the long poll lines we’ve seen in Georgia and Wisconsin.
But we could have also used celebrity star power over the past few decades, as Kentucky created one of the worst and most restrictive voting systems in the country. In 2016, before any pandemic, the Election Performance Index MIT ranked Kentucky 44th in 2016, mostly because we have no early voting and have stringent requirements to request an absentee ballot. Our voting hours are only 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. And by November, we’ll have voter ID requirements, a well-known hallmark of voter suppression.
That’s why the compromise agreed to by Gov. Andy Beshear (a Democrat) and Secretary of State (a Republican) seemed like a good idea way back in April. It attempted to protect voters from a deadly virus while giving Kentuckians access to mail-in voting for the first time ever and allowed early voting by appointment a week beforehand. These seemed like good ways to deal with the fact that the average age of Kentucky poll workers is 65, which makes them high risk for COVID-19. They also opened the door to the kind of voting system Kentucky could have in the future.
About a month ago, however, the county clerks in Lexington and Louisville decided they could staff only one large polling place for election day. State Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, filed a lawsuit to add more sites in the state’s five most populous counties. Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Simpson turned it down, saying there was no evidence the current plan would suppress votes.
“Comprehensive plans were put in place which included making absentee ballots available for all voters, providing early in-person voting options for 15 days leading up to Election Day, and establishing a polling place for Election Day in-person voting,” Simpson wrote. “This Triple Crown of voting options wins against the pandemic’s risk of disenfranchising the Kentucky voter.”