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Kentucky on track for historic primary turnout

Kentucky's Senate race heats up
Kentucky's Senate race heats up before Tuesday's primary 06:57

Kentucky is on track for historic voter turnout in Tuesday's primary election, setting a new record, with over 1 million people expected to cast ballots this year. 

Until now the largest presidential primary election in the state took place in 2008, when 922,000 votes were cast. In 2012, less than half that number voted — about 450,000 — and 670,000 cast a ballot in 2016. Kentucky officials attribute this year's surge to changes allowing people greater access to voting absentee by mail. Also, at the end of 2019, the state restored the voting rights of more than 150,000 convicted felons who have completed their sentences.

Joe Biden has already clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, but one of the key races to watch is the Kentucky Senate Democratic primary, as state Representative Charles Booker seemed to be gaining on establishment favorite Amy McGrath in the race that will decide who takes on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November.

Absentee voting

About 868,000 people requested absentee ballots for the primary, and by Tuesday morning, over 530,000 absentee ballots had been returned. According to one official, the state is expecting 90% of those ballots to be returned, including 30 to 40% on primary day or the day after, as has been the case in other states holding elections by mail. In prior years, absentee ballots made up about 1.5% of the primary vote. Mail-in absentee ballots must be postmarked by June 23. 

In-person voting

Over 110,000 people voted early in-person across the state, and election officials are predicting 150,000 to 170,000 people will be voting in person on primary day. By late afternoon, over 100,000 had voted in person. There are 3,476,645 registered voters in Kentucky.

One giant polling place in Louisville

The coronavirus pandemic has spawned a severe shortage of volunteers to staff polling sites because of concern over the spread of COVID-19. As a result, Jefferson County, where Louisville is located, has moved all in-person voting on primary day to the Kentucky Exposition Center where there are multiple lines for voters in an area the size of four football fields. There are also free bus lines being run across the county to take people to the polls, as well as shuttles to help people who parked farther away in the parking lot provided.

One official said there were no major lines as of noon for in-person voting, though by later in the afternoon, there were a few reports of people waiting up to two hours to vote in Fayette County. That county, which includes Lexington, also has a single polling place, Kroger Field, which also has free bus service to get people to the polls. 

Three States Hold Primary Elections During Pandemic
LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 23: (Editors Note : The image taken with slow shutter speed) Voters make their way through the polling process during Tuesdays Kentucky primary election on June 23, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky.  Brett Carlsen / Getty Images

In Jefferson County out of the 616,512 voters registered, 219,106 requested absentee ballots, and 113,472 were returned by Tuesday morning.

Fayette, which has 243,620 total registered voters, saw 92,181 requested absentee ballots. By Tuesday morning, 61,119 had been returned.

Primary results not expected Tuesday night. While county clerks are required to post Tuesday's in-person results on their doors tonight, full results including absentee ballots are not required to be reported to the Secretary of State's office until June 30 at 6pm.

Three states are holding primaries Tuesday. In addition to Kentucky, New York and Virginia are also voting. Virginians are voting on congressional races. Their presidential primary was held in early March, on Super Tuesday. 

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