LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (AP) – With only one polling station open on election day this week in Louisville, Kentucky, voting was relatively smooth compared to other recent primaries held during the global pandemic. Does this mean that other cities should consider the same thing in November?
Voting rights groups say no. They warn that the fact that the largest city in Kentucky did not have too long lines for the primary does not mean that other cities will have to cut polling stations – even if they extend access to absent ballots – and say polls, among other things, exist places needed to handle a higher turnout, probably during the fall elections.
“Offering only one site on Election Day implies that we have reached everyone, and we don’t have to work so hard on Election Day, and that thinking is dangerous,” said Kristen Clarke, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Wet. “In the primaries we get a preview of what the turnout will look like in November.”
Kentucky’s best election official, Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams agrees. Adams said he advised counties not to reduce polling stations to the extent they did in primary, but those decisions were made by local officials and the National Electoral Council.
“I’m glad it went smoothly, but the fact is that we will have twice as much turnout in November as we did in June, or more,” Adams said in an interview on Thursday. “We just can’t have so few voting locations.”
Local election officials have faced unprecedented voice disturbances caused by the pandemic as pollsters have dropped out for fear of contracting the virus and sites such as senior citizen communities and nursing homes have said they no longer want to serve as polling stations.
The shortages prompted local officials to consolidate polling stations across the country for the primaries. In recent months, voters have seen long waits in Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Las Vegas, among others. In Milwaukee, all but five officials closed all 180 of the city’s polling stations, leaving people in line for two hours.
“In the best of times, very long lines are deterred and denied. In the days of the coronavirus, long lines can be deadly, ”said Myrna Perez, director of the voting and election program at the NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice.
Prior to Kentucky’s primary Tuesday, Adams and Democratic Governor Andy Beshear drew up a plan to expand the voting in absence and set up an online voting ballot system. Adams said that the two-pronged nature of the deal and the fact that decisions were taken two months before the first contributed to a smooth election with an estimated 75% of voters absent from the vote – up from the usual 2%.
Voting experts praised the two-pronged commitment and early planning, saying that these should be the main lessons of the Kentucky elections rather than reducing polling stations, as it is impossible to know how many people found it too difficult to get to the Kentucky Exposition Center, the only voting site for approximately 616,000 registered voters in Jefferson County.
And the site was not without its problems. A court order extended the voting time by 30 minutes after people reported that they had trouble parking when closing the poll. That ended in a dramatic scene, captured on video, of voters slamming closed doors demanding to be let in.
Just over an hour’s drive east along Interstate 64 in Lexington, Kentucky, voters had to wait 90 minutes to vote at the only polling station in Fayette County.
Local officials in Louisville and Lexington both said that having only one polling station is not the best option for November. Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins urged state officials to issue guidelines for the fall election as soon as possible.
“I wish they would make a decision today,” said Blevins. “If we wait up to six weeks before the elections take place again, we can’t possibly get it done.”
Typically, state laws provide rules governing decisions about polling stations, but the health emergency requires some flexibility.
In Nevada, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske ordered provincial election officials to send out ballot papers to registered voters for absence prior to the June 9 primaries and greatly reduced the number of polling stations, one per county suggests. Democrats contested that for the Las Vegas metro network, which led to an agreement to open three locations on Election Day for the province’s 1.1 million registered voters.
The last voter there voted the following day at three in the morning, eight hours after polling stations were to close.
Experts say what happened in Nevada underlines that even if the absent ballots are sent directly to voters, there is still a demand for personal voting. It also provides a crucial backstop for voters who may not have received a ballot by mail or missed the application deadline.
In California, state legislatures passed a law ordering election officials to send absent ballots to 20.6 million registered voters for the November election, but also required that a polling station be opened on election day on election day.
“It seeks to maintain that balance: maximum accessibility for voters, while being realistic about the challenges election officials face,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
In Louisville, local groups provided free transportation to the Expo Center on Tuesday.
Lyndon Pryor at the Louisville Urban League, who provided about 50 rides for voters, said he feared transportation might be an obstacle for some and hopes the state will do more in November to increase access.
“We can recognize that the state has done a number of things to make voting easier,” said Pryor. “But at the same time, those things didn’t necessarily remove all barriers, and in some cases they created more barriers.”
Cassidy was from Atlanta.
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