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Will a Sleepy Campaign Season Mean Low Kentucky Voter Turnout?

Denise Cross/ Creative Commons

As statewide political races go, the 2015 general election campaign in Kentucky has lacked the exciting moments or game-changing controversies that grab voters' attention, political observers say.

Republican Matt Bevin and Democrat Jack Conway spent Monday campaigning throughout the state in last-minute bids to drum up support. Some local elections officials are expecting turnout in the 40 percent range. Others are expecting much less.

Nonetheless, the state's chief elections officer is optimistic that Kentuckians will turn out to the polls on Tuesday.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said she sees signs that the trend of decreasing voter turnout in Kentucky gubernatorial elections may be ending.

“We actually have exceeded the absentee ballots that have returned, and the machine votes that have already been cast (in) in-person absentee voting exceed where we were in 2011,” she said.

At this time during the 2011 race, about 26,000 absentee ballots had been cast, Grimes said. As of Monday morning, more than 27,000 ballots were cast in the 2015 general election.

But more absentee voting doesn’t necessarily indicate an increase in turnout.

Grimes also said the state has a record number of registered voters. “But what we have seen historically is a decline in participation in gubernatorial elections," she said.

In 2011, 28.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear was re-elected in a landslide over Republican state Senate President David Williams. In 2007, 37.8 percent of registered voters turned out to the polls.

Veteran political commentator Al Cross told WFPL News in September that he expects very low turnout this year, much like years past.

“I think voter turnout is likely to be at a historic low for a governor’s race, because there really is just not that much excitement for either candidate and not much prospect that there will be excitement,” he said.

Voter turnout for the gubernatorial primaries in May was 12.5 percent statewide — this despite polls showing a close race for the Republican nomination. Matt Bevin won that contest by 83 votes.

Some county officials said they are hopeful to see turnout between 30 and 40 percent this year.

Nore Ghibaudy, spokesman for the Jefferson County Clerk's Office, said he expects between 32 and 40 percent turnout.

“Turnout in Jefferson is typically higher than the rest of the state, though,” Ghibaudy said.

Oldham County Clerk Julie Barr said she expects turnout up to 42 percent. A good weather forecast for Tuesday is making her optimistic.

“I hope I’m wrong and it’s higher,” Barr said.

Voters who experience trouble at the polls on Tuesday can report issues to the Secretary of State's hotline at 1-800-328-VOTE.

Polls opened at 6 a.m.

(Image via Denise Cross/Creative Commons)

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