Rain dampens already expected low turnout in Kentucky primary election

By: and - May 16, 2023 5:54 pm

A resident casts his vote on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, at Morton Middle School in Lexington. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Kentucky Lantern

LEXINGTON — Inside St. Luke United Methodist Church, David Osborne’s second year working as a poll worker is a quiet one, and quite different from his last election.

“In the general election in the fall, we had about 80 people in line when the doors opened at (6 a.m.) This year we had one,” Osborne said.

There were no lines and not many voters either at a sampling of polling sites that Kentucky Lantern staff visited during Tuesday’s primary elections.

Kentucky voters are deciding who will represent Republicans and Democrats in races for statewide offices this fall including state attorney general, state treasurer, state auditor, secretary of state and agriculture commissioner. The biggest race features 12 candidates in a crowded GOP gubernatorial primary vying to take on the Democratic winner, widely expected to be incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

Kentucky’s chief election official already expected lower turnout in this primary election, predicting around 10% of the state’s 3,468,537 registered voters would show up. That’s much lower than the turnout of about 19% in the 2019 primaries when the last party nominations for statewide offices were held. Tuesday’s rain could hamper turnout even more.

In Jefferson County, which has the largest share of GOP registered voters among counties and home to Louisville, the county clerk’s office reported an 11% overall turnout so far with 73,085 votes cast as of about 5 p.m. ET.

For the voters who have made it to the polls, many expressed a desire to support their preferred candidates and in general exercise their right to vote.

Emily Blevins, 21, a senior at Eastern Kentucky University who is from Stamping Ground, said she voted for Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Voting in the Scott County seat of Georgetown , she had met Quarles a few times and knew he was from the county.

“He was super kind and willing to talk to me about anything, and especially with my school studies and stuff. He’s just really personable,” Blevins said. “I am in school, so they’re very adamant about voting … that makes me feel proud.”

Quarles has consistently been polling in third place behind the two other leading candidates in the GOP primary for governor, former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

Cindy Maloy of Georgetown said she cast a ballot for Cameron, and voted because she wanted “to be able to say I’ve had a say so in who was elected, who’s going to do what.”

As for why she voted for Cameron, the 50-year-old, said: “I like how he is not afraid to be himself and that he has the best interest, I feel like, financially and socially.”

South of Lexington in Jessamine County, at least one Republican voter thought Beshear, one of the more popular governors in the country according to some polling, would ultimately be hard to beat.

“I’m a strong Republican. We don’t have anybody that can beat Beshear this election, I don’t think,” said 88-year-old Patrick Caskey, a veteran living in Nicholasville. “A lot of good things have happened in this country and this state under his watch, but so much of it started before he ever came to be governor.”

Caskey almost voted for Cameron but instead voted for Craft because of worries about if Cameron could beat Beshear.

“I like what she says that she will do in Kentucky: ‘If I’m governor, and we catch a drug dealer, he’s going to prison,’” he said.

Caskey put his act of voting in the larger perspective of freedoms he sees are afforded in the United States.

“It’s terribly important that we always vote,” Caskey said. “This is an honor and a privilege to do what we do in this country, and for the mess our country is in today, we’re still terribly blessed with the freedom we have.”

A voter and his children walk into a polling location on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, at Scott County Public Library in Georgetown, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Kentucky Lantern

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Rayleigh Deaton

Rayleigh is a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky, where she was editor-in-chief of the Kentucky Kernel.

Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.