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WKYT Investigates | The impact of early voting

Only a fraction of voters are expected to cast their ballots on Election Day.
Published: Sep. 28, 2020 at 4:37 PM EDT
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - State Rep. Charles Booker, D-Louisville, is not campaigning now when he talks about breaking down barriers “from the hood to the holler.”

His campaign rallying cry - pushing to build a new urban/rural coalition of previously “invisible, ignored, left behind” communities - is now an organization as he tries to carry on the movement he started in the spring when he ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Kentucky.

“That fire was already burning across Kentucky,” Rep. Booker told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer recently. “It’s really a matter of shining a light on it and allowing the world to see what we’ve been fighting for generations.”

Booker’s candidacy came up short, but it is hard to ignore the surge he made late in the race. His message clearly resonated in a world changed not just by the coronavirus pandemic, but from social unrest sparked by continued eye-opening experiences with racial injustice.

That momentum though likely came too late - even with the election pushed back more than a month - in a campaign where only a fraction voted on Election Day because of pandemic procedure changes.

Officials expect a similar story this fall, when November 3 will not be “Election Day,” per se, but instead the last day of a voting period.

County clerks across Kentucky expect many people to vote early in person or via absentee ballot. They have already sent out many absentee ballots to voters who have requested them.

Voters have been asked to request and return ballots as soon as possible to avoid overloading the U.S. Postal Service and to make sure ballots can be counted.

But how soon is too soon to vote?

While expanded absentee and early voting opens up access for voters, experts say it does change the dynamic for officials, candidates and voters alike.

“Typically only about two percent of Kentucky elections were done via absentee ballot under those more restrictive voting rules,” said Joshua Douglas, a UK law professor and election expert. “So now we have multiple avenues for people to basically choose how they want to vote.”

Your three options for voting are:

  • In-person in the three weeks leading up to Election Day (beginning October 13)
  • In-person on Election Day (November 3)
  • Absentee ballot (which can be requested online until October 9)

[Read more about the state’s general election plan here.]

Nearly a month-long voting period means that many will decide - or have decided - well before November 3. That changes things for campaigns, like in the high-profile race for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, where political observers have seen more money spent even earlier.

“They are advertising at late-October levels at this point,” political columnist Al Cross said late in the summer, “and I think it’s because they realize people are making up their minds early and there aren’t a lot of people who are persuadable in that race anyway.”

If your mind is already made up, people have been encouraged to “flatten the ballot curve” by voting early, to lessen the pressure on the Postal Service and county clerks.

Absentee ballots being returned in the mail must be postmarked by Tuesday, November 3 and back in the hands of elections officials by Friday, November 6 to be counted.

“I think they will be good,” Douglas said, “but they have three days and they’re going to be processing a lot of mail.”

The Postal Service is telling people to mail back their ballots at least seven days before the deadline.

So experts say if you are waiting to make a decision, you may want to deliver your ballot to a drop-box instead of dropping it in your mailbox.

Increased voting in the weeks leading up to Election Day very well may have hurt Rep. Charles Booker in the primary - “A lot of people voted before realizing there was another option,” he said - but he says it is still a step toward the kind of voting system he wants Kentucky to have for every election.

“The pandemic has allowed us to dig in on the work we needed to have done a long time ago,” he said.

If you are concerned about COVID-19 you can request an absentee ballot online at govoteky.com.

The last day to request an absentee ballot online is October 9. If you have already requested an absentee ballot you can check the status of it here.

The deadline to register to vote is October 5. You can register - or check your registration - online here.

Copyright 2020 WKYT. All rights reserved.

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