NKY Counties Face Lawsuit Over Polling Places in Primary
With only one polling place in Kenton, Campbell, and Boone counties in the June 23 primary, some voters have filed a lawsuit arguing that the plan to decrease opportunities for in-person voting will have a detrimental impact on voter turnout, particularly for the elderly, medically vulnerable, and communities of color.
Those three counties along with the state's two largest, Jefferson and Fayette, are named in the suit filed in the U.S. District Court in Louisville.
Kentucky's primary election was originally scheduled for May but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As social-distancing recommendations remain in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Kentucky counties are limiting in-person voting locations, while expanding access to mail-in or absentee ballots and also accepting in-person voting at county clerks offices.
Aaron Gillum, a Boone County resident who is one of the plaintiffs in the case, describes himself as a politically-focused pseudo-activist in the region who felt he had to do something after being astounded by the counties' plans for election day which were released at the beginning of this month. Republican State Representative Jason Nemes of Louisville, former Erlanger mayor and current councilman Tyson Hermes, Campbell County resident Erik Hermes, and Boone County resident Theodore J. Roberts, are also among the plaintiffs who filed the suit together.
Gillum says that there is no malice or aggression towards the clerks or their offices, and that he is understanding of the difficult situation presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. He states that his primary concern is the suppression of voters in the commonwealth's most populated districts.
"I believe there should be a fair opportunity for everyone to vote in person with minimal inconvenience," he said. "I'm very understanding of the current situation and the burden that our county clerk's offices are facing, but I feel a duty to push back when I feel it's not enough."
Gillum says that a goal of the lawsuit would be to get two-to-three more precincts open in each county listed in the lawsuit.
In Kenton County, the polling location available on primary election day is the Northern Kentucky Convention Center. The Kenton County Board of Elections is meeting in executive session on Friday to plan its litigation strategy, according to an announcement from Kenton County Clerk Gabrielle Summe.
IN-PERSON POLLING PLACES IN NORTHERN KENTUCKY ON JUNE 23:
- Kenton County
- Northern Kentucky Convention Center
- 1 W Rivercenter Blvd.
- Campbell County
- First Baptist Church in Cold Spring
- 4410 Alexandria Pike.
- Cold Spring
- Boone County
- Boone County Extension Enrichment Center
- 1824 Patrick Dr.
Campbell County Clerk Jim Luersen says that he and his office are doing the best they can with the hand they've been dealt and says that people have been receptive to the ease of voting by mail.
"The ballots are sent with prepaid postage," Luersen said. "And people can drop them off at one of our dropboxes in Newport and Alexandria up until 6 p.m. on election day."
Summe, the Kenton County clerk, said that the primary is not a state-constitutionally guaranteed right but a courtesy extended to the state's political parties, making the lawsuit's outcome difficult to predict.
In statement on the lawsuit, Kentucky's Secretary of State Michael Adams said, “I’ve consistently communicated my opposition to a single voting location in counties that are large in population or geography. That certainly includes Jefferson, Fayette, Kenton, Boone and Campbell Counties, which are named in this lawsuit. These counties’ decisions to offer only one voting location were made over my explicit objection.
“I strongly sympathize with concerns raised by the plaintiffs, who prefer to vote in person. That is precisely why I championed in-person voting throughout my negotiations with Governor Beshear, and ultimately maintained the right of all Kentuckians to vote in person if they choose – while also recommending they vote absentee if possible so that crowds at voting locations can be minimized.
“I respect the hard work of our county clerks under difficult circumstances, and recognize that many simply lack available locations and/or volunteer poll workers to offer voting locations beyond those they already have. Ultimately, it is these local election officials who should decide our local election policies, not a federal judge, who would not be equipped to decide where to place voting locations, nor recruit new poll workers after so many have quit for fear of coronavirus, nor train these new poll workers in the dwindling time left before election day.”
State Senator Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill) said that the clerks are in a tough spot.
"I think that it is terribly inconvenient for the citizens and I think if we have to do this a second time, we have to have multiple polling locations across Kenton County," McDaniel said. "I think given the uncertainties, the clerk (Summe) did as best as she could. The secretary of state did the best as he could do. But we cannot do this a second time."
Read the full lawsuit via the Courier-Journal here.
Written by Connor Wall and Michael Monks for RCN
Photo: Sign at NKY Convention Center in Covington (RCN)