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Kentuckians Cast Ballots In Unusual Primary Election

Part of the Kentucky Exposition Center that's been converted into a Jefferson County polling site.
Part of the Kentucky Exposition Center that's been converted into a Jefferson County polling site.

Voters filed in to polling places across Kentucky on Tuesday to cast ballots during the state’s primary election, with initial estimates pointing to a record high voter turnout.

Final results of the election will be released in coming days as officials count mail-in ballots, which all Kentucky voters had the opportunity to cast this year in an effort to reduce exposure to the coronavirus.

And despite warnings from national political figures about chaos at the polls, things went pretty smoothly in Kentucky, though the election did have its hiccups.

Most of the state’s 120 counties only had one polling place, prompting worries of long lines and confusion ahead of the election.

In Lexington, there was a long line most of the day outside of the county’s sole polling place at Kroger Field on the University of Kentucky campus, with reports of a near two-hour wait and voters having to wait in the rain.

Leonore Crutchfield waited two hours to vote with her three kids, but she said it was worth it.

“Us standing in line for two hours is nothing compared to people who got shot and killed, dogs turned on them, hoses turned on them to vote," Crutchfield said. "So, my two hours in line, even though I got a bad ankle, I’m gonna do it. Because what else are you gonna do?"

About 25% of Kentucky's 3,476,393 registered voters requested mail-in ballots for the primary election and as of Monday, county clerks said they had received about half of them.

Ballots had to be postmarked by June 23 and clerks' offices around the state will continue to receive them over the coming days.

In Louisville, lines moved quickly at the state fairgrounds, where officials set up 350 booths for voters to cast ballots.

Shona Sondergeld said her mail-in ballot never arrived, but she was able to easily cancel her absentee ballot and vote in person.

“It was so easy, they fixed everything for me. I signed something saying if it came I wouldn’t send it in and try to vote twice,” Sondergeld said. “But otherwise, a breeze. In and out in less than 10 minutes.”

But when polls closed at 6 p.m., confusion set in. Election officials locked the doors, blocking people who hadn’t yet entered the building from casting ballots.

People pounded on the doors demanding to be let in. Charles Booker, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, filed an emergency court motion to try and extend voting until 9 p.m., arguing that would-be voters had gotten stuck in traffic.

And Circuit Court Judge Annie O’Connell issued a quick ruling, saying that everyone who was inside the building by 6:30 p.m. could vote.

Nore Ghibaudy is the spokesperson for the Jefferson County Board of Elections. He said everyone who was on the “cement pad” outside the expo center could vote.

“There was an injunction. The judge said that anybody that was on that cement pad could vote. After 6:30 p.m. the doors would get locked again and that’s the end of it,” Ghibaudy said.

Along with Indiana, Kentucky closes its polls at 6 p.m., earlier than any state in the nation.

Kentuckians weighed in on races for the presidency, U.S. Senate, congress, the state legislature and local elections during the election on Tuesday.

Because of the expansion of mail-in voting, most results — including that of the closely watched Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate between Charles Booker and Amy McGrath — will not be released for several days.

One race was called on Tuesday night — Mitch McConnell won the Republican Party’s nomination for him to be reelected to his Senate seat for a seventh term.

On Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State Michael Adams said that the state was on track to cast about 1.1 million ballots, close to record high turnout during a Kentucky primary election.

Adams issued a statement Tuesday night on the election.

“While all eyes were on Kentucky today, we offered the nation a model for success in conducting an election during a pandemic. I’m proud of Kentuckians for exercising their rights, and proud of the bipartisan coalition who worked with me – the Governor, State Board of Elections, county clerks, and poll workers – to make this election both successful and safe,” Adams wrote.

Eleanor Klibanoff, Jacob Ryan, and Stephanie Wolf contributed to this story.

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