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Will Tuesday’s primaries be another debacle of long lines and discouraged voters?

State election officials want Congress to approve funding to fix pandemic related voting problems before November

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Voters wait in line to cast their ballots in the state’s primary election at a polling place, Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Atlanta, Ga.

Ron Harris, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Voting during a pandemic has caused myriad problems during the 2020 election season, and Tuesday’s primaries in five states may continue the trend of long lines and protracted delays in getting results because of the high number of mail-in ballots.

Social distancing and other restrictions related to the coronavirus have forced elections officials to drastically reduce the number of polling stations and ramp up their limited absentee voting systems expecting higher numbers wanting to submit ballots by mail rather than in person. Meanwhile, partisans have accused each other of using the pandemic to encourage voter fraud and voter suppression amid the chaos.

Primaries earlier this year— like in Wisconsin, Nevada, Georgia and Washington, D.C. — garnered national attention for their hourslong lines at the polls and general disorganization. Long lines were attributed to fewer polling stations and poll workers, and not all voters who requested a mail-in ballot received one before the postmark date.

Voting appeared to be running smoother in primaries on Tuesday. “While there were reports of some voters in New York and Kentucky having to cast ballots in person after failing to receive an absentee ballot, it did not appear to be causing the long lines that were seen in places like Milwaukee and Atlanta,” The Associated Press reported.

Elections officials throughout the country have urged Congress to approve more funding in the next coronavirus aid package so they can correct the problems that have surfaced in the ongoing primaries and be better prepared for November’s upcoming election, NPR reported.

“We want every American who has the right to vote to know that they have the freedom to do so and the access,” Stacey Abrams, chairwoman of the voter advocacy group Fair Fight Action, told a House committee earlier this month. “And that access will not exist if we have limited means and people have to put their lives at mortal risk in order to cast their ballot.”

Bluegrass in the spotlight

New York, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina and Mississippi each are holding primaries Tuesday, but media attention — and that of the two major political parties — is focused on the Bluegrass State, where there is a competitive Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat.

The Kentucky primary had been scheduled for May but was pushed to June 23 because of coronavirus concerns. More than quarter of all registered voters requested a mail-in ballot, a precautionary measure approved by the state’s Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, the Louisville Courier Journal reported.

Some voters who had requested a ballot by mail had still not received one just days before Tuesday’s primary, The Washington Post reported.

The coronavirus pandemic has also led to a smaller pool of willing poll workers, contributing to a drastic reduction in polling places for in-person voting. Of the 3,700 polling stations typically used during an election year in Kentucky, only 200 opened Tuesday across the state’s 120 counties, according to the Post.

Kentucky’s two most populated counties of Jackson and Fayette will each have a single polling location.

“If we get a massive turnout at Kroger Field (the University of Kentucky football field), that’s just going to be an angry mob,” said Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins Jr. “That does worry me a little.”

Jackson County — home to the Ohio River city of Louisville and more than 760,000 people — is where the state’s largest Black population resides. About 20% of the county’s residents are Black, The Washington Times reported.

The Democratic primary that will decide who will face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who is expected to win his primary against seven challengers — in November has gained national attention.

Former United States Marine Corp fighter pilot Lt. Col. Amy McGrath is facing a late but strong challenge from Kentucky state Rep. Charles Booker.

McGrath had been the front-runner, but the death of Breonna Taylor — who was shot and killed in her home by Louisville police in a “no-knock” raidin March — the movement against police brutality and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter has given new life to Booker’s campaign, The New York Times reported.

Booker lives in Louisville, where only one polling station will be open for a city of 600,000 people. That’s a concern for Booker, who’s Black and counting on a high turnout in Louisville. He told the Associated Press that his campaign would “keep a watchful eye” and stands ready to mount a legal challenge if needed.

“There should not have only been one location,” Booker said. “That will just naturally disenfranchise folks.”

It takes time

In New York — an early epicenter to the nation’s coronavirus outbreak — more than 56,000 people have tested positive for the virus. In response, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in May that offered vote by mail to all New York voters, Syracuse’s The Post-Standard reported.

Ahead of the state’s primary, nearly nearly 2 million mail-in ballots were distributed to registered New York voters, The Wall Street Journal reports, which is a monumental increase since the 2016 presidential election when the state processed just over 115,000 absentee ballots. Each of those ballots — which needed to be postmarked by June 16 — could push back election results to over a week, according to the Journal.

On Monday, President Donald Trump — who won his 2016 election after losing the popular vote — warned on Twitter that the pandemic was no excuse to curb in-person voting. The alternative, mail-in voting, would surely lead to fraud, he claimed.

“Because of MAIL-In BALLOTS, 2020 will be the most RIGGED Election in our nation(‘)s history — unless this stupidity is ended,” the president tweeted.

A Rasmussen poll in April showed that around two-thirds of Americans believed voter fraud was a likely result of mail-in balloting. Respondents to the poll were heavily divided along partisan lines, with 81% of Republican and 48% of Democrats thinking fraud was likely.

But a Washington Post study of the results of three vote-by-mail states showed that only 0.0025% were fraudulent, just 372 cases out of 14.6 million votes. Other academic studies have shown in small number of fraudulent absentee ballots are inconsequential to final results.

A downside of vote-by-mail is the extended time it takes to determine a winner after verifying and counting votes.

Heading into Tuesday’s primary in Kentucky and New York — and possibly in November — voters and media outlets should prepare to wait days or weeks for the final results.

Utah, which is among four states with universal vote by mail, experienced such delays, and some resulting turmoil, in the 2018 race for the 4th Congressional District.

That year, Utah Democrat Ben McAdams defeated incumbent Rep. Mia Love by less than 700 votes to become the state’s only Democrat in Congress. About 90% of Utahns voted by mail in that election, The Washington Post reported.

Votes were still being tallied a week after Election Day. Love sued the Salt Lake County Clerk to stop counting votes to give the campaigns time to inspect signatures on the ballots. A judged dismissed the suit two days later, Deseret News reported.

Fourteen days after election day, the votes were certified and McAdams was declared the winner on Nov. 20.