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Tornado-impacted counties prep for the primary elections after damage

Lily Burris
The Graves County Courthouse still looks severely damaged 100 days after the tornado in Mayfield that was a part of the December tornado outbreak in western and central Kentucky.

As May’s primary election draws closer, Kentucky counties hit by December’s tornadoes are readying despite damage to some polling locations.

The Graves County Courthouse was severely damaged by the tornado. County Clerk Kimberly Gills said it destroyed 90% of the election supplies and the county lost seven of their polling machines.

“Most of my polling locations in the city were the schools, those were fine, and then my other ones were out in the county,” Gills said. “As far as I know, none of those were destroyed.”

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Graves County has been using voting centers instead so people can vote at any one of the centers available. This year, there will be six voting centers – Mayfield High School, Graves County High School, Fancy Farm Elementary, Sedalia Elementary School, Wingo Elementary School and Trace Creek Baptist Church Family Life Center.

“In these six precincts, you can go to any precinct and vote,” Gills said. “You don't have to go to your own area to vote. You can go to any of these six precinct.”

Gills said Graves County had absentee and early voting at the courthouse, as well as Election Day, before it was destroyed by the tornado. Now they’re located in the old Mayfield Shopping Plaza behind Regions Bank.

“Basically, the whole county is out here, all the county offices and circuit and district courts out here, and that's where we packed up [to],” Gills said.

To replace the damaged polling machines, and the other old ones stored away from the courthouse, Graves County received a grant from the state to pay for replacements.

Gills said they will be ready for the election when it rolls around.

“I just want people to feel comfortable at this election,” Gills said. “You know that it's gonna be a fair, honest election, as always. I don't want [Graves County citizens] to be worried that their vote won't count.”

In Hopkins County, the primary concern isn’t the damage left by the storm. It’s the shortage of workers due to another natural disaster – the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jenny Menser, deputy county clerk and public relations chair, said there was some concern about the Dawson Springs Branch Library, but they will be able to use that location this year.

“A lot of our poll workers have worked the polls for decades and are getting on in years,” Menser said. “A lot of them just didn't want to take a chance with COVID.”

Marshall County’s East precinct polling location, the local fire station was destroyed by the tornado. Area voters that typically cast their ballots there will go to the Briensburg Church of Christ.

Marshall County Clerk Tim Young put out a reminder document on Facebook about the upcoming primary elections. It included information on mail-in, absentee and early voting.

The primary elections are on May 17 this year.

Lily Burris is a tornado recovery reporter for WKMS, Murray State's NPR Station. Her nine month reporting project is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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