Kentucky voting chaos: 600,000 Louisville voters, one polling place
Poll workers answered questions and try to direct voters as they arrive to vote on Primary Election Day at the Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville, June 23, 2020. | Pat McDonogh / The Courier Journal via AP

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Imagine trying to jam 600,000 people into one convention center. That is what’s happening in Louisville, Ky., in the June 23 primary. The result could be a rerun of Georgia’s disaster earlier in June: Long lines and chaos.

In a supposed attempt to counter the coronavirus pandemic and stop “community spread” of the contagion, Kentucky cut the number of polling places statewide from 3,700 in the 2016 presidential voting, and 2,700 in the last off-year election in 2018, to a mere 200. Each county has at most two polling places.

Jefferson County, with 700,000 residents, including the city of Louisville and its 20% African-American electorate, has one: the main convention center. This is a city where protesters are still in the streets demanding justice in the murder of Breonna Taylor.

While Kentucky officials approved vote-by-mail for the primary—which features a close race for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination between establishment favorite Amy McGrath and State Rep. Charles Booker—they haven’t done so for the general election.

And the GOP-dominated legislature is resisting that, forcing the Kentucky ACLU to go to court, again, to demand vote-by-mail for November.

Even with vote-by-mail, there could be chaos at the polls—excuse us, poll—on June 23 in Louisville. Ditto in the commonwealth’s #2 city, Lexington, where the sole site, equipped with voting booths and hand sanitizers, is the University of Kentucky’s football field.

“On Election Day, there will be several shuttle services running from the west end to the fairgrounds and TARC”—the city bus system—“is free all day, but we know transportation is still going to be a challenge for some. We are still looking at several options to support the community WHILE remaining safe,” the Louisville NAACP reported.

Booker, who is African-American, set up one of those options: His campaign is running shuttles to the arena. An emergency Kentucky GOTV committee is appealing for donations, through ActBlue, to help shoulder the cost.

Booker is the progressive in the race. He supports Medicare For All, the Green New Deal, and universal basic income. He’s also virtually tied in the polls with McGrath, who is more moderate and a decorated military fighter pilot. Several celebrities, led by basketball superstar LeBron James and progressive politicians, endorsed Booker.

Charles Booker, a Democratic candidate for the U.S Senate, raises before voting at the Kentucky Expo Center Friday, June 19, 2020 in Louisville, K.Y. Booker is running to unseat Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. | Pat McDonogh / Louisville Courier-Journal via AP

To encourage voting despite the looming chaos, Black Voters Matter’s bus led an afternoon “Hype Parade” around town the day before the primary. On Election Day, all the organizations are trying to transport voters to the polls and provide hand sanitizer and anti-virus face masks, too.

The winner of the Booker-McGrath race will face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He’s notorious for blocking every piece of progressive legislation the U.S. House has passed, for imposing a raft of Donald Trump-named right-wing ideologues in judicial robes on the country, and for wrecking Barack Obama’s presidency with an order to his caucus, the night Obama was first inaugurated, to stop everything the nation’s first African-American president tried.

All that led veteran Newsweek political writer Eleanor Clift last year to say McConnell is “the most dangerous threat to democracy” in the U.S., instead of Trump.

And McConnell is known for sheer meanness. When McGrath announced her candidacy, he started running ads against her. They showed a tombstone with her name on it.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.