Tanzina Vega: I'm Tanzina Vega, and this is The Takeaway. Tuesday was primary day for three states, Kentucky, New York, and Virginia and officials in all three have been trying to learn from states that have already had their primaries about how to make voting work during a global pandemic. Let's zoom in on a bluegrass state first.
That's the sound of frustrated voters banging on the doors at the only polling station in Louisville and as predicted, some voters were standing in long lines due to polling station closures. Here to talk us through what happened there is Joshua Douglas, election law professor at the University of Kentucky and author of Vote for Us; How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting. Joshua, thanks for joining us.
Joshua Douglas: Thank you for having me.
Tanzina Vega: A lot of people saw the clip that we pulled that sound from of folks banging on the windows and the doors trying to get into a polling station. Tell us what happened there. What was going on there?
Joshua: Well, that was really unfortunate at the very end of the polling hours last night when basically the polls closed at six, and they were parking congestion around the Expo Center. When they tried to close the doors to the polling place, obviously a handful of voters were still outside. Note that lines actually in Louisville, we're very short throughout the day up until that moment and so that was really terrible end to the closing period. Now all those voters were allowed to vote eventually.
Tanzina Vega: Josh, we see a lot of folks saying to people, even if your polling place closes at a certain time, 6 PM does feel early for a polling place to close, but that as long as you're standing in line you're able to vote is that what happened for those voters yesterday in Kentucky?
Joshua: While there was some confusion about what it means to be standing in line, I guess. On the ground, the election officials believed that you had to be inside the doors to get in line. There are people rushing from the parking lot because there was traffic congestion, right around the parking lot. There was an injunction filed, a judge did order them to keep the polls open till 6:30, so that any of those voters who were basically right outside the door, we're able to get in. That is the law in Kentucky. If you're in line by six o'clock, you're allowed to vote, the question was were those voters technically in line?
Tanzina Vega: These questions of whether someone is technically in line, that feels like we're teetering on thin ice here because there are lots of concerns across the country, particularly after we saw Georgia voters that their primary a couple weeks ago, and it just really in terms of allowing folks their ability to vote. I'm wondering if you can tell us first of all, why were there so few polling places to begin with. Wasn't there a court ruling that limited the number of polling places?
Joshua: Well, not a court ruling that limited, there was a challenge asking to open more polling places, and that was denied. What this they did is they moved to no excuse absentee balloting so anyone was able to vote by mail and that was a first for the state. Kentucky is very restrictive voting laws and typically, we don't have no excuse to absentee balloting, so you need to have an excuse to vote by mail. We typically have no early voting, and they opened up two weeks of early voting. The whole goal was to try to minimize the amount of in person voting needed because of the Corona virus.
The state was really trying to funnel as many people to these alternative voting processes and at the same time reduce the potential spread of the virus by limiting the number of polling places. Now it obviously wasn't enough, they should have tried to find a way to open additional polling places, but that was the the goal and what we saw is almost everywhere around the state with the exception of Lexington, the lines were actually very short.
Tanzina Vega: Josh, we won't have much information about results or turnout for the primary, a big reason for that is because of the mailing ballots. What numbers so far do we have?
Joshua: Well, we have some data based on the in person vote in some counties, Lexington, it released some numbers, especially for the Democratic primary between Amy McGrath and Charles Booker, and so far, Charles Booker looks like he's doing very well with respect to the in person voting. Those numbers are very preliminary again, because we have thousands upon thousands of absentee ballots that are still being delivered.
The other important thing to note is that as long as ballots were postmarked by yesterday for election day, they can count once they arrive at the county clerk's office by Saturday via the US Postal Service. We have a whole lot ballots still coming in and we won't know the actual results until next week.
Tanzina Vega: Josh, you mentioned the Booker McGrath race to face Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, in November, what did we see there?
Joshua: Well, it's going to be really interesting to see who wins that race. There was a lot of enthusiasm for Charles Booker towards the end of the campaign. Again, we'll just look at the in person voting totals in some places, and including Lexington, the second largest city, you see a lot of support for Booker, then the question becomes, how does that look as against Mitch McConnell.
I suspect it'll be the most expensive race in the country whoever wins. Kentucky's a very republican state with a lot of support for Donald Trump and with Trump at the top of the ticket, I think Mitch McConnell is going to be difficult to defeat, but there's a lot of time between now and November and especially if one of these candidates can have a lot of enthusiasm from the urban centers of the state. We'll see what happens.
Tanzina Vega: Kentucky state legislators also passed a voter ID law earlier this year. Those laws had their own share of controversy, some consider them obstructions to getting folks to the polls. What effect did that voter ID law have on this primary and are we concerned about the law come November for the presidential elections?
Joshua: The law explicitly does not go into effect till November, so the only effect would be if people had heard about it and were concerned or confused about whether it was in effect and then didn't show up to vote. I'm very concerned about its potential effect for November when it's set to be used. I advocated very strongly both to make the laws reasonable as possible to put some changes, and then also just against the law, as a general matter. Now, I will say that because of some of the details of the law that I and others helped to put in, it's much more reasonable than some of the other photo ID laws around the country like in Wisconsin, and Texas.
That said, I still am very concerned about the potential disenfranchising effect, especially to minority communities. There's been a lawsuit filed already, and I'm hopeful that the court will at least put the ball on hold for November because I think it's ridiculous to impose additional hurdles on the right to vote and expect people to find IDs at a time when we're still trying to socially distance, government offices aren't open, et cetera.
Tanzina Vega: Also, you mentioned transportation actually getting to the polls, so we're going to be keeping an eye on Kentucky, Joshua Douglas election law professor at the University of Kentucky and author of Vote for Us; How to Take Back our Elections and Change the Future of Voting. Thank you for joining us.
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