In the first part of my life, I spent a lot of time in Kentucky. My parents had a cabin there on Kentucky Lake.
Any time I encounter a musty smell, I think of that cabin, neither rustic nor fancy, just a place to wind down on weekends and summer stretches of vacation. Because it lacked occupancy much of the time, it took a while during each visit to air out.
My father would head out early each day in hopes of filling a cooler with crappie. My mother would spend time on the sun porch that ran along the length of the structure. My sister and I would walk down a gravel road to what passed for a beach.
This informs most of what I know about Kentucky. The folks seemed friendly and enjoyed their leisure.
I know little about the current state of Kentucky’s politics, and some in the commonwealth consider that very condition a reason for people to butt out of their business. In particular, election authorities there find the views of outsiders, and even some insiders, unwelcome when it comes to today’s balloting.
“The truth of the matter is, they don’t know the first thing about elections. But they now are professionals on it,” said Bobbie Holsclaw, the clerk of Jefferson County, the most populous in Kentucky.
Holsclaw’s comments came in the aftermath of a federal court ruling last week about the voting setup in today’s primary in Kentucky. The arrangement had been arrived at through bipartisan discussion and compromise on how to make the election happen in a safe environment.
With the pandemic, the primary had been delayed from May into June, and a vast system of mail-in balloting had been established and encouraged.
But the number of voting places around the commonwealth has been reduced more than 18-fold. And the largest county, Jefferson, with the city of Louisville and roughly 776,000 residents, will have one voting location, a massive convention hall with socially distanced booths for marking ballots.
This reduction of polling places became a central argument in the lawsuit, in which the judge denied relief to those decrying voter suppression.
As viral intrusion has complicated all elections in 2020, feverish rhetoric persists at both extremes.
Some believe voter suppression to be a Republican power move, a means of keeping minority constituencies from expressing views at the polls. President Trump, at the other end of the spectrum, tweeted Monday and before that mail-in ballots will rig the election for his opponents.
Holsclaw, the county election authority in Kentucky, warns of a self-fulfilling prophesy.
“That’s what suppresses the vote,” she told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “When you’re out there every day telling people, ‘This isn’t going to work,’ then that’s the result.”
Outside the talking, certain facts appear inescapable. One, elections will be held in all 50 states this November. Two, the threat of a dangerous virus will hang over them, and provisions must be made to ensure the safety of those running the elections and those casting votes.
Every election authority in the United States should be watching Kentucky, educating themselves on what goes right and what goes wrong.
If long lines and frustrated voters prevail, that must be noted. If mail-in ballots show no sign of being tinkered with or corrupted, that, too, must be taken into account.
Running an election in ordinary times is difficult enough. But today is a school day for those looking to carry out a constitutional duty in even more difficult circumstances.