Politics

Saturday was the first time Kentucky held a presidential caucus in more than 30 years.

The contest, which New York businessman Donald Trump narrowly won, was designed so Rand Paul could run for Senate and the White House at the same time. But according to state Republican officials, it was also intended to get Kentuckians more excited about the nominating process.

Did it work?

Jefferson County resident Lacy Little caucused at Louisville’s Zachary Taylor Elementary. He was furious about the new format.

“I shouldn’t have to wait in these lines and stuff,” Little said. “I should be able to go to my same poll, my voting post that I do every year, that I’ve done for 30-some years in this neighborhood.”

Reports of long lines and traffic jams across the state helped hype up the caucus on Saturday, but in reality, voter turnout for the election was average at about 18 percent.

Crowds were magnified because polls were only open for 6 hours instead of the typical 12. And there were far fewer caucusing sites than polling locations used in state-run elections.

In Jefferson County alone, there are more than 187,000 registered Republicans. Normally there are 271 polling locations in the county, but for the caucus, there were just nine places to vote.

That’s nearly 21,000 Republicans per caucus site.

There was only one caucus site in Bowling Green’s Warren County, where nearly 31,000 Republicans are registered. Lines stretched out of the building and into the parking lot in a Saturday morning drizzle.

Warren County resident Beth Sterchy waited patiently in a long line to cast her ballot, using the time to think about which candidate to support.

“I’m still kind of on the fence with maybe Kasich or Rubio, not sure. Just whatever the Lord leads me to bubble in at the last minute,” she said.

The biggest crowds may have been in Boone County, which also had only one caucus location despite being home to nearly 51,000 registered Republicans.

In Fulton County, located at the very tip of the toe of Western Kentucky, the county’s solitary caucus was held in a yellow, colonial-style house.

Jason and Kelly Sipes of Hickman — on the Mississippi River — drove 30 minutes to caucus in Fulton.

“I prefer the primary,” Jason Sipes said.

“Yeah, because the caucus doesn’t have any different feel except that it’s in someone’s home. It’s the same process,” Kelly Sipes said.

Besides having fewer places to vote, the main difference between Saturday’s caucus and a conventional primary election was that the voting took place on paper ballots.

Additionally, representatives from the presidential campaigns are allowed to “educate” voters about their candidates while they wait in line. While no presidential campaigns showed up in Fulton, in Lexington, representatives from all four campaigns greeted voters as they crossed the threshold of Henry Clay High School.

Lloyd Mullins, a semi-retired machine shop owner from Lexington, didn’t like that.

“I’m really surprised that they allowed that. Seemed like that’s against some kind of law in Kentucky,” Mullins said.

Electioneering is prohibited within 100 feet of a polling place during a state-run election, but not so during the party-run caucus.

Of course, the main reason Republicans decided to switch to a caucus was to allow Rand Paul to run for reelection to the Senate and the White House at the same time.

That fact was not lost on Louisville’s Lacy Little.

“Why would you allow a senator to change your voting methods in the state because he wants to still be senator while he’s running for president?” he said.

Kentucky Democrats will vote for a presidential nominee on May 17. On the same day, both parties will vote in the primary election for congressional seats and the state House and Senate, among others.

Becca Schimmel of WKMS, Kevin Willis of WKYU and Jacob Ryan of WFPL contributed reporting to this story.

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