Kentucky Politics

Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins says he’s confident his office will be able to handle the election.

But it’s a juggling act.

“I mean if you think about it, we’re running kind of three different kinds of elections simultaneously,” Blevins said. “You’ve got a normal election day, you’ve got early voting in person and now vote by mail again.”

Kentucky normally only allows early voting and mail-in voting with an excuse—voters have to sign an affidavit promising that they’re disabled, ill, in the military or temporarily out of the county.

But this time around, anyone can vote early if they choose, or cast a ballot by mail if they’re worried about catching or spreading coronavirus.

And that has Kentucky’s 120 county clerks offices—the ones ultimately in charge of administering the state’s elections—scrambling.

“It’s the best case for voters, a smorgasbord of options, and the worst case for clerks because we’ve got to do it all,” Blevins said.

Each county has its own unique balancing act of trying to provide enough in-person voting for people who want it, while also handling higher-than-normal volume of mail-in voting.

Blevins says he expects at least 70% of voters in Fayette County to cast ballots by mail.

But Christian County election coordinator Melinda Humphries says she expects most voters to cast ballots early, in person.

“That’s all we’ve heard about here,” Humphries says about voters’ demand for early voting. “It’s not I don’t think a trust issue, I don’t think. It’s just because they want to physically vote in person.”

Meanwhile counties across the state are experiencing a crunch on available poll workers, many of whom are aging out or vulnerable to coronavirus.

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams has spearheaded a push for younger poll workers to sign up, including a marketing campaign with local craft breweries and a new Kentucky Bar Association policy that offers Continuing Legal Education credit for lawyers to sign up.

But Humphries says challenges remain in making sure polling locations still have some experienced officials.

“You could have as many people there, but if they’re don’t know what they’re doing and they’ve never experienced this before, they’re not much good to you,” Humphries said, adding that she hopes the new ones stick around.

“I don’t mean in a bad way at all. They need to work governor’s race and a local election race so they’re ready for a presidential race.”

Every county has to submit a plan to the governor and secretary of state’s office, laying out how many polling places they’ll have on Election Day and for early voting 6 days a week starting on October 13th.

But in addition to finding poll workers, some clerks are having trouble finding polling locations during the pandemic.

Daviess County Clerk Leslie McCarty says that she’s been unable to use a normally reliable polling location—schools.

“The way a lot of schools are set up, when we are wanting to use the facility, we usually use a gym. But the gym, for a lot of schools, at least here in Daviess County, their gym is in the middle of the school,” McCarty said. “They don’t want us in there.”

And with early voting starting in a little more than two weeks, McCarty says Daviess County’s plan for six in-person polling locations still hasn’t been approved by state officials

“We are just going to have to go forward with our plan and make sure people in our county know where they can vote and the different ways they can vote.”

Rowan County Clerk Elwood Caudill says he’s planning on having just one location for the county, but it’s a big one, the 11,000 square foot Carl Perkins center.

“It’s very close to the interstate, it’s our hub in our county and with 3 weeks of early voting, 3 Saturdays, absentee ballots, and election day, I think that will give people ample time to vote,” Caudill said.

State officials started approving county election plans earlier this month, but so far they have only approved 51 of the 120 counties, most of them small and medium sized ones.

The largest ones—Jefferson, Fayette and Boone Counties still haven’t been approved, though the deadline is September 30th.

And then there’s the concern about election workers catching coronavirus and what that would mean for the election. Fayette County Clerk Blevins sent his staff home last week after one worker tested positive for the virus. But he says it’s not going to affect his office’s preparations.

“Everybody that has people that report to them is worried constantly that someone is going to die. It would be very difficult to process having an employee die because they came in to issue stickers for people’s license plates. It just doesn’t seem worth it,” Blevins said.

The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is October 9th. You can do that at GoVoteKY.com.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.