Christian County Clerk Mike Kem in western Kentucky has already seen COVID-19 enter his doors — three of his employees are currently isolated with the virus.
Since his office is in charge of coordinating local elections in his county, he says that up-close experience with the virus has emphasized to him the importance of having people vote early in person this election. Simply put, if more people vote early, fewer people are likely to crowd in line on Election Day and risk COVID-19 exposure.
“It’s a serious threat,” Kem said. “Who wants to be waiting in line with possibly somebody who’s sick?”
Early in-person voting started Tuesday in Kentucky, with voters able to go to at least one designated polling location in their county to cast their ballot without an excuse. It’s the first time voters in Kentucky and throughout much of the Ohio Valley have had this kind of option for early voting. These early voting locations will be open Monday through Saturday until Election Day on Nov. 3. Voters can look up their polling location online. Yet Kem worries there will still be more people voting in-person than there needs to be given the risk of COVID-19 because of false information about absentee mail-in voting.
“We got a pretty good post office in Christian County, and I feel certain that the ballots that go into the mail here in Christian County will be delivered. But there is a lot of rhetoric out there, and it’s just a bunch of crap,” Kem said.
Kem didn’t specifically say where the rhetoric was coming from, but said people should trust the U.S. Postal Service with ballots.
President Donald Trump in past months has claimed without evidence that mail-in ballots could be manipulated to be sent to Democratic areas and not Republican areas, and that any expansion of mail-in ballots would lead to widespread fraud. Election experts say fraud from absentee mail-in voting is very rare. Trump in August also walked back comments in which he appeared to say he opposed increased funding for the U.S. Postal Service because he wanted to make it harder to vote by mail.
More than 650,000 voters in Kentucky have requested absentee mail-in ballots before the state’s Oct. 9 deadline, taking advantage of a one-time rule change by state officials allowing voters to cite concerns about COVID-19 exposure as a reason for absentee voting. Ohio and West Virginia officials made similar election changes and both states are seeing surging demand. Ohio has already surpassed 2 million absentee ballot requests, and more than 100,000 voters in West Virginia have requested absentee ballots.
In Ohio, voters have already been casting early in-person ballots for several days, including Deborah Meyer in Athens County in the southeast of the state. She felt comfortable voting in-person at the county board of elections because poll workers there were maintaining social distance and wearing masks. She also said she already recovered from a minor case of COVID-19, which helped her feel safe.
“I was excited about voting. Because if I get hit by a Mack truck tomorrow, my vote will still count,” Meyer said. “I like voting in person.”
Ohio voters can vote early in person at their county board of elections through Election Day, and West Virginia voters can vote early in person Monday through Saturday at designated polling locations from Oct. 21 through Oct. 31.
Aaron Payne of WOUB Public Media contributed to this report.