Closed polling stations, long lines of people waiting to vote and a hotly contested Democratic primary where the winner gets the chance to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are the three biggest storylines out of the Bluegrass State. These stories don’t just highlight concerns over a fair voting process in Kentucky, but underscore the difficulties lying ahead for the 2020 general election.
A lack of polling stations
Two national news stories emerged out of Kentucky in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s vote.
The first was that many polling stations throughout some of the most highly populated counties in the state had been closed, resulting in a lawsuit being filed in a United States district court.
Earlier this year, five county boards of elections in Kentucky voted to only have one polling place available for Tuesday’s primary. This vote affected the state’s four most populous counties, including Jefferson County (767,000 residents), Fayette County (318,000 residents), Kenton County (164,000 residents) and Boone County (129,000 residents). It also affected the 92,000-resident Campbell County.
A lawsuit led by State Representative Jason Nemes, a Republican, was filed in all five counties in an attempt to force the county boards to provide more polling stations. The boards cited a lack of poll workers for the reduced stations, but Nemes argued that the result was voter suppression and a greater risk of COVID-19 infection. The coronavirus pandemic has led to more people voting by mail.
Ultimately, Nemes’ lawsuit, which was joined by other state officials, failed, with US District Judge Charles R. Simpson III ruling that the counties did not have to open more polling stations.
Tuesday arrived with Jefferson, Fayette and Kenton Counties only having one location for people to vote. (Boone and Campbell came to a separate agreement to open one additional polling station.)
McGrath versus Booker
The second major story out of Kentucky was the primary contest between two Democrats, Amy McGrath and Charles Booker, who were both seeking to challenge McConnell for his long-held seat in the US Senate.
McGrath is a former Marine and fighter pilot who had the official backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Booker is a state representative who supports Medicare-for-All and received the endorsements of left-wing Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The battle for the opportunity to take down the current leader of the Senate was billed as a contest between a centrist Democrat and a far-left progressive.
In an ad released in early June, Booker cited the Kentucky-based Courier Journal, which called McGrath a “pro-Trump Democrat.” Booker said he was a “real Democrat” whose policies included Health Care for All and Living Wages for All.
In the weeks leading up the vote, McGrath maintained a sizable lead over Booker, with the Courier Journal labeling her “the unquestioned queen of campaign cash in Kentucky.” By mid-June, she had raised $41.1 million, compared to Booker’s $792,600. By comparison, McConnell had raised $32.8 million for his re-election campaign in the same timeframe in which McGrath raised her total.
Despite Booker’s far less substantial financial haul, though, the emergence of racial justice as a key issue in the 2020 election has greatly helped bolster his campaign. In the final days of campaigning, the race had tightened and McGrath’s frontrunner status was in question.
What happened on Tuesday?
With so few polling stations open on Tuesday, images showed voters waiting in long lines, particularly in Louisville, the state’s largest city.
A local reporter, Jacob Ryan, posted video footage on Twitter of crowds knocking on the glass of the Kentucky Exposition Center, the sole polling station. The footage was taken minutes after 6 p.m. when the doors had been closed to more voters.
Shortly after Ryan’s footage began going viral, Booker took to his Twitter account to tell people to stay in line, saying that the doors had been reopened and they would be able to vote.
Booker and McGrath both filed injunctions to have the voting time extended, with a judge agreeing to allow voting to continue until 6:30 p.m.. However, an effort to extend the voting until 9 p.m. failed.
Despite those optics, Reuters reported that the state experienced a “relatively smooth primary election” with “few voting glitches.” The projected turnout for the primary, including mail-in ballots, was 1.1 million people, which would set a new record for the state.
Even if every voter was able to eventually vote, long lines and alleged voter suppression remain crucial issues ahead of November’s general election. A lack of polling stations combined with efforts by President Donald Trump to block mail-in voting could mean that states will struggle to meet the in-person demand.
Mail-in voting offers its own set of challenges, particularly because most Americans have never voted that way.
Results from Tuesday
The increased number of people voting by mail in the Kentucky primary means that the results of the McGrath/Booker race may not be known until June 30. On Thursday, it was reported Booker had narrowly taken the lead over McGrath, with other potential candidates far behind.
With many mail-in votes coming from the state’s two largest cities, Booker’s campaign felt confident they would win. Booker’s appeal to left-wing voters is said to play well in the state’s urban voting bloc.
Kentucky wasn’t the only state holding a primary on Tuesday. Other notable results came out of New York and North Carolina.
In New York, incumbent Democratic Representative Eliot Engel lost to his progressive opponent, Jamaal Bowman. Engel was supported by establishment Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Bowman was endorsed by Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, who also won her first re-election campaign on Tuesday.
In North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, a Republican primary saw a Trump-backed candidate, Lynda Bennett, lose to 24-year-old Madison Cawthorn.
If elected in November, Cawthorn would be one of the youngest members of the US House of Representatives in history.
A similar result occurred in another Kentucky primary, for the state’s 4th Congressional District.
Thomas Massie, an incumbent in the US House who had angered the president, nonetheless held on to easily defeat his opponent, Todd McMurtry.
Trump had tweeted on March 27 that Massie was a “third rate Grandstander” after Massie voted against a coronavirus aid package in the House. The president also said that Massie should be thrown out of the party.
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