Since the coronavirus pandemic hit earlier this spring, voting rights advocates have voiced concern over the country’s ability to operate free and fair elections. Tomorrow, all eyes will be on Kentucky, which will be running its most anticipated Democratic primary in years with only a sliver of in-person polling locations available.
Instead of the typical number of polling stations across the state—a number that normally hovers just under 3,700, according to CNN—Kentucky will have just 170 stations where residents can vote in person. State officials slashed the number of available polling sites earlier this year due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus. For many of the state’s black voters, this could spell prohibitively long waiting times to cast their ballot, potentially disenfranchising thousands of voters.
The Democratic primary features a tight race between Charles Booker, a black progressive running for the U.S. Senate, and Amy McGrath, a moderate Democrat. The winner of Tuesday’s primary, which was originally slated for mid-May, will run against Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell in the fall.
The nationwide focus on racial and social justice has brought with it increased attention to the race; Booker has called to defund the police. But in Louisville, where 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by city police officers who raided her home in March, only one polling site will be available for the entire county.
Jefferson County, home to Louisville, has the highest proportion of black residents in the state. As Mother Jones reports, there will be just one polling location in the county for its 616,000 registered voters. Half of all Kentucky’s black voters are registered to vote in Jefferson County.
NBA star Lebron James shared Mother Jones writer Ari Berman’s tweet, adding, “This is SYSTEMIC RACISM and OPPRESSION.”
Stacey Abrams, who lost her bid for Georgia’s gubernatorial seat in 2018 after her opponent, Gov. Brian Kemp, was accused of disenfranchising thousands of black voters, also weighed in on Tuesday’s election.
“Voter suppression is no longer billy clubs & Jim Crow. It’s closed polling sites + 6 hr waits w/o pay. COVID is no excuse,” she wrote on Twitter. “Who needs to vote in person? The disabled. The homeless or displaced. Voters w/language barriers. Folks who didn’t get their ballots in time. Americans.”
It’s still unclear how many voters will be able to mail in their ballots. According to CNN, which cited the Kentucky secretary of state’s office, the state has issued more than 850,000 mail-in ballots for the primary election. As of Monday, just over half had been returned. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by tomorrow in order to count toward the final vote totals for the primary. Mother Jones reported over the weekend that some voters say they had yet to receive their ballot.
In a final effort to fight potential voter suppression, last week, a bipartisan group attempted to get a federal court order to add more polling places to Kentucky’s three most populous counties: Jefferson, Fayette, and Kenton. A federal judge denied that request, which specifically stated concerns about disenfranchising black voters, stating that “last-minute action by the court would adversely impact the election,” writes CNN.
For his part, Booker said his campaign was getting ready to support voters at the polls tomorrow, organizing ride shares to get voters out and preparing for forthcoming legal action if voting issues arise.
“We’re vigilant. We’re ready,” Booker told CNN. “And we’re going to make sure everyone’s vote is heard.”