Justin Hicks/Kentucky Public Radio
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With practically 500 sq. miles of rural hills and cow pastures and simply 13,000 folks, Lewis County in northeastern Kentucky is likely one of the most sparsely populated locations within the state.
The province is split into 14 electoral districts. For many years, every had its personal voting location. However for this yr’s basic election, which ends Tuesday, Lewis County may have simply 4 central polling websites.
“I do know there will probably be arduous emotions,” Lewis County Clerk Leslie Collier mentioned. “I just–it wasn’t completed out of spite. It is simply that we haven’t any cash. What are you doing?”
Collier, a Republican, is making an attempt her finest to stability a handy, accessible vote with a modest finances. With the $50,000 the native authorities allocates yearly, it struggles to replace voting machines and pay ballot staff. So, on this election, they’re making an attempt to broaden this finances even additional by providing 4 facilities the place anybody within the district can vote, no matter precinct.
“It was a troublesome determination (with) the county board of elections,” she mentioned. “There have been doubts, a variety of discussions, however it was one thing we needed to just do financially. Elections are vital, however I additionally suppose it is vital to spend that cash on completely different initiatives, whether or not it is roads or no matter.”
Though she wasn’t required to, throughout this yr’s major, Collier printed vinyl banners and positioned them in any respect the precincts the place folks have voted for many years.
She mentioned she monitored major voter turnout carefully, and with it being down only one share level in comparison with the 2019 major, she hopes it is a good technique for elections like this yr’s, with out a presidential election, when turnout is often low. minimal.
“This fall…we’ll see if it stands the take a look at of time,” she mentioned. “I am certain we will make it work.”
Collier isn’t alone in consolidating polling areas. For this election, 64 of Kentucky’s 120 counties switched from numerous neighborhood polling websites to utilizing just a few central voting facilities. Final yr, 59 counties have been utilizing vote facilities completely.
Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, additionally a Republican, says the change in voting facilities, like many states, has already occurred due to the pandemic. What began as a brief pandemic measure was simply that stipulated in state law In 2021.
“It turned out to be so in style that voters needed to maintain it, so that is what we did,” Adams mentioned.
However Adams says he has critical issues about voting facilities in some locations, together with Lewis County. Having fewer voting areas can disenfranchise voters and means there are fewer backups if one thing goes mistaken, akin to an influence outage or a violent accident.
Adams says he known as Collier to debate his issues about consolidation, and informed her he can be carefully monitoring voter turnout within the county this election.
“That is an increasing number of irritating for lawmakers in each events,” Adams mentioned. “Like, we gave you this legislation to broaden entry. Should you abuse it, we’ll take it away from you.” “We’re not there but, however we’re maintaining a tally of it.”
For future elections, Secretary Adams says he desires state lawmakers to implement guardrails to forestall an excessive amount of consolidation of polling locations.
“What I would like is one thing very clear in black and white that claims: ‘You should not have greater than “
Megan Bellamy works with the Nationwide Voting Rights Lab, a gaggle that favors increasing voting entry. She says because the pandemic they’ve seen practically 100 payments associated to voting facilities launched in states throughout the nation. Bellamy says adopting the vote middle mannequin does not really seem to be a partisan factor both — it is extra of a rural versus city challenge.
“City facilities might not have the identical must create a voting middle,” Bellamy mentioned. “It is really handy sufficient, accessible sufficient…in comparison with a number of the rural areas the place they’re seeking to fill some gaps in relation to their funding.”
Whereas her group primarily advocates for the usage of voting facilities in addition to precinct-based areas and legal guidelines that shield in opposition to disenfranchisement, Bellamy says consolidation isn’t all unhealthy.
“When you concentrate on comfort, and all these components that we have recognized, it really works for lots of voters,” Bellamy mentioned.
Again in Kentucky, Secretary Adams says some counties are set to obtain extra funding for brand new expertise. That would imply extra voting locations in subsequent yr’s presidential election, the place turnout is anticipated to be larger.