LOUISVILLE, Ky. — While national Democrats, athletes and celebrities are saying Kentucky’s rescheduled primary is an attempt at voter suppression, the Bluegrass State is on its way to a possible record turnout in Tuesday’s primary election.
Kentucky received high marks months ago when Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams agreed to allow registered voters to mail in absentee ballots to avoid in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the plan, Kentuckians have also been allowed to vote in-person since June 15, a week ahead of the new primary date.
“If the governor and I are both suppressors, we’re doing a terrible job because we’ve got the highest turnout we’ve ever seen — and that’s the bottom line,” Adams told The Courier Journal on Monday.
Critics of Kentucky’s plan have ranged in the past few days from NBA star LeBron James to former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Adams said as of Monday morning, nearly 1 million Kentuckians — 973,807 — have either requested an absentee ballot or voted early before Tuesday’s primary. As of Monday evening, county clerks across the state had received more than 503,400 of those ballots back in the mail.
The high-water mark for a Kentucky primary election came in 2008, when 922,456 residents voted.
“I am worried that know-nothing, angry people from New York and California will call us and they’ll block out people from rural and urban Kentucky who are trying to find out where to go vote,” Adams said. “That is voter suppression.”
During his Monday afternoon press conference, Beshear said the expected record turnout for a Kentucky primary is “the opposite of voter suppression.”
y morning, the Jefferson County Clerk’s office had reported mailing 218,404 absentee ballots to registered voters, in addition to 7,493 who had voted early at the Kentucky Exposition Center last week. More than 96,000 residents have already mailed back their ballots.
And that figure didn’t account for those who voted at the office’s election center — the county’s other early-voting location — over the past two weeks.
The suddenly competitive race to find a Democratic challenger for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the fall has drawn national interest to Kentucky’s primary.
Over the weekend, liberals across the nation have been torching the Bluegrass State with claims that voters — particularly Black residents — would be disenfranchised.
Many referenced a Saturday piece in The Washington Post, which called attention to how there would be fewer than 200 polling places in the state compared to about 3,700 in a typical election year.
Others swarmed onto how Louisville, which is home to the state’s largest Black population, would have only one polling location, at the expo center at the state fairgrounds.
The U.S. Senate campaign of Democrat Charles Booker was among the first to ignite the narrative that the state’s primary was turning into an effort to keep minorities from voting.
“This is a recipe for disaster,” Booker deputy campaign manager Shante Wolfe said in a fundraising email obtained by The Courier Journal. “Long lines and understaffed polling places, coupled with expected high turnout in the coronavirus pandemic, will make it difficult for many voters to safely cast their ballots.”
Booker, a Black state legislator from Louisville, has been surging against Democratic rival Amy McGrath, who is white, in the final weeks of the contest.
The Booker campaign, which didn’t attempt to join a legal challenge against the state to expand voting locations as McGrath’s campaign did on June 12, cast the limited polling places for the in-person primary as a plan to quash his historic bid to be the first Black nominee in the state Democratic Party’s history.
“Reducing polling places by 95% in a historic primary under the guise of public health is nothing short of voter suppression — and we won’t stand for it,” Wolfe said in the email to supporters.