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Voting by mail option for all

Voting by absentee ballot through the mail has always been an option for those who had to be away from the polls on Election Day, but this year it’s going to be an option for everyone in the primary election.

But it isn’t the only option.

Those who want to go to the polls may do so, but it’s likely they won’t be voting where they usually do. And those who don’t want to risk standing in line with people who may unknowingly have the coronavirus and don’t want to vote by mail may schedule an appointment to vote on the absentee machines at the courthouse.

Absentee voting is ordinarily only for those who are going to be out of town all day during an election or have a medical reason for not going to the polls. This year, state officials basically decided everyone has a legitimate medical excuse — COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus that has infected more than 8,500 Kentuckians and taken the lives of close to 400.

“We’ve had a lot of people that are telling us they want to go to the polls. They don’t want to change the way they have voted their whole life,” Jessamine County Clerk Johnny Collier said. “But then we have a bunch of people who are saying they would like the convenience of just mailing it in.”

If they want to get a ballot in the mail, but don’t want to mail it back, he said, they may also bring it to the courthouse and place it in a box outside the clerk’s office.

Absentee voting

Because of concerns about the coronavirus, the primary election, which was supposed to have been May 19, has been delayed until June 23. Voters won’t know until after June 28 who won because ballots will be accepted in the mail through that date as long as they are postmarked by June 23.

Collier said those who want to vote by mail may call his office at (859) 885-4161, extension 5, and request a ballot application, which they must fill out and return to get an actual ballot. They may also go to the clerk’s website and email the request or wait until the Secretary of State’s Office opens an online portal by May 29 to allow them to apply for a ballot.

“We’re fielding phone calls every day,” requesting ballot applications, Collier said. And when the online portal opens, he said, “we really, truly feel like we will be overrun for a while.”

“This is a very unusual time in our history, so we have no idea what’s going to happen at this point,” Collier said.

Most state officials are confident, however, the mail-in voting can be free and fair. This won’t be an election by mail where everyone is mailed a ballot even if they didn’t request one, but rather an expansion of the existing absentee voting process that resulted from an agreement between Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, and Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat.

Collier said one thing the state won’t be able to do is implement a law the legislature passed this year that requires a photo to identify the voter — at least not until the general election in November, if it is done the normal way.

“We just certify the signatures of the mail-ins” with the signatures the office has on record, Collier said. “You can’t ask somebody to send their driver’s license. It’ll be the same as it’s always been at this point.”

At the actual polling places, election workers have usually asked to see a photo ID unless one of the workers knows the voter and knows they are registered to vote in that precinct.

Those who want to vote by absentee but not by mail may do so at the Jessamine County Clerk’s Office beginning June 8 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday or 8 to noon Thursday. However, voters must schedule an appointment to avoid other voters being nearby at the same time, and they must wear a mask.

Voting at the polls

This year, the polling places will be limited to ensure that social distancing protocols are followed and that there are enough election workers. Collier has asked for four locations: Nicholasville Elementary School, Wilmore Elementary School, East Jessamine Middle School and Southland Christian Church. The school district and the church have given permission, but he has not yet gotten approval from the state Board of Elections.

“We’ve requested four to try to spread it out throughout the county a little bit. You do not have to go to any particular polling location. Anybody that wants to walk in can go to any of the polling locations,” Collier said.

But for now, local election officials are waiting for the word from Frankfort.

“They may come back and say you can only have one. If they do that, we will put as many voting booths in there are we can and try to get as many people through as we can,” the clerk said.

Some counties have requested that the National Guard send soldiers to the polling places to help enforce social distancing, make sure people go in one door and  come out another and other safety precautions. If Jessamine County needs help with that, it will call on sheriff’s deputies and city police, Collier said.

Collier said those who go to the polls should wear masks, but he doesn’t think they can be required. Only voting machines that scan paper ballots will be used to avoid having people touch screens. Voters will provide as many pens as possible to avoid having to share them. They can take them with them as they leave.

Election workers will use e-poll books, or small computers, to scan the voter’s driver’s license or put in their Social Security number to identify the voter and give them the right ballot for their precinct.

What’s on the ballot

Although the Republican and Democratic nominees for president are probably a foregone conclusion, there are some down ballot races on primary day that have considerable voter interest. The big one, Collier said, is the nonpartisan race for Nicholasville City Commission. The primary will narrow the field to the top eight candidates who will go on to the Nov. 3 general election.

School board seats are also on the ballot this year.

Another race expected to be hotly contested is between two Republican candidates, Jay Corman and Matt Lockett, for the 39th Kentucky House District seat that Democratic Rep. Russ Meyer of Nicholasville is retiring from at the end of his third term.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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