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Purchase Region Voters Talk About Unprecedented Primary Election Day

Liam Niemeyer

  West Kentucky voters throughout the Purchase region went to the polls Tuesday in what is an unprecedented primary election amid the coronavirus pandemic, in which voters chose candidates in the Presidential race, U.S. Senate race, and some state house and senate races.  Most counties had only one polling location due to the virus limiting the number of poll workers and sites available.


Tuesday morning saw a steady stream of voters at Graves County High School, the county’s only precinct. Jeanie Haley, a nurse at Jackson Purchase Medical Center, voted in the Republican U.S. Senate primary election for U.S Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Her precinct during past elections was at the Graves County Public Library.


“I mean, it didn't bother me to come here. It's just a couple miles down the road. So, it didn't affect me as much as it probably did a lot of others out in the further parts of the county,” Haley said. “It is a little bit unusual, but I think it’s our duty.”


Some voters wore masks at the high school, while many, including Haley, did not. Graves County Kim Gills said she was concerned about the public health risks created with voters refusing to wear masks, and she and other county clerks considered checking voters’ temperatures at their respective polling locations.


“I wasn’t gonna turn anybody away that wanted to vote if they didn't have a mask or didn't want to wear a mask,” Gills said. “I wasn't gonna be the cause that someone lost the right to vote.”


Gills said poll workers wore face shields, voting booths were distanced apart, and Kentucky National Guardsmen sanitized booths frequently. Many voters expressed they decided to vote in-person because of a distrust in mail-in absentee voting, which was expanded by the state to decrease the chance of COVID-19 spread at voting locations.


“We want to make sure that it goes through. I mean, you never know what happens when you do it the other way,” said 51-year-old Tracy Lee, who said he’s never tried mail-in voting before. “We’d rather just do it hands-on.” 


Lee, a Black man, said recent nationwide Black Lives Matter protests across the country had influenced his vote in the Democratic primary election. Election experts cite data that shows mail-in absentee voting fraud is miniscule, and one postal worker voting at the county high school touted the method’s efficacy.


“But I know that the post office will make every effort to make sure every piece of mail is postmarked by tonight. Even if someone has to drive it to Evansville from Paducah instead of on the usual truck that goes out,”  said Melissa Newcomb, who works as a United States Postal Service carrier in Paducah. “We take extra good care of your mail, believe it or not.”


Mailed absentee ballots have to be postmarked by June 23 to be counted in the primary election. While some national figures and pundits feared long lines at polling precincts due to the fact many counties only had one location, little to no lines materialized in Graves County or in Calloway County, where voters cast their ballots inside the CFSB Center basketball arena.


Credit Liam Niemeyer / WKMS
Voting booths distanced apart in the CFSB Center at Murray State University

 “I feel like the world is just on a cliff,” said 31-year-old Madalyn Henson, who voted in the early afternoon Tuesday at the arena. “We just all need to stand up for what we believe, whether that’s the right or the left, you just need to go vote.” 


Henson said while there wasn’t anything in particular that motivated her vote, she hopes in particular term limits can be implemented for senators and representatives in Congress. 


Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams projected Tuesday that turnout should set a new record for primary elections, with 1.1 million ballots cast and an estimated 32% turnout. Many counties will not release election results until June 30 to account for all absentee ballots. 


"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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