FAKE NEWS: Voter Suppression In Kentucky?

There have been several versions of this going around.  Trouble is, it’s completely absurd, a patently evident attempt to propagandize.

This is important for two reasons:  One, it’s apt to backfire because it’s so transparently wrong.  Two, everyone, even Mitch McConnell, deserves to be trashed only by the truth; Lord knows his record speaks for itself if you’re looking for a reason to hate him.

Let’s start with what’s true in the meme, and we’ll move on from there.

Kentucky has reduced the number of polling places.  This is absolutely true.  In case you haven’t noticed,there’s a pandemic on, and Kentucky is behaving responsibly.  Where the usual system is quite casual, the present operation is intended to drastically reduce the chance of infection among poll workers and volunteers.  (The general public is the least at-risk sector, according to CDC guidance.)  The decision was made to use large centralized facilities which could be more easily controlled, secured, and disinfected between voters.  Instead of six polling stations at each of two dozen schools and fire stations, they went for a hundred stations at a single massive building, whether courthouse or rented hall.

What you’re not hearing about is the tremendous push for absentee ballots in Kentucky, as well as a vastly increased period for in-person voting.  I got in touch with the county clerk’s office in Jefferson County; their response included the following:

“There are 616,525 registered voters in Jefferson County for this Primary Election…  The Jefferson County Board of Elections secured the Kentucky Exposition Center for those individuals who did not request a mail-in ballot… We opened the KEC for in-person voting on June 15th… Jefferson County has had the highest voter turnout for this Primary in the history of voting… and we still have today and Election Day tomorrow.”

The total number of absentee ballots sent out by request was 218,404.  Far from being suppression, this strikes me as a tremendous and overwhelming success thus far.  (Here’s a Courier-Journal story that somehow I’d missed until post-publication.  -Editor.)

(As a side note:  To those of you who mock Republicans for their casual approach to COVID-19, I’d like to point out that Kentucky is a solidly Republican state with a Republican SecState and a majority of Republican county clerks.  They’re being very responsible and they’re still getting crap from y’all.  So, just as politely as I can possibly say it, and not being a Republican myself:  Shove it, ya hypocrites.)

Some more general information before we move on to the second version of the meme:

  • Mitch McConnell, pictured in the meme, has nothing whatsoever to do with state politics.  He’s on the ballot, but he has very little influence over how the state’s election is run.  He lacks the power to suppress voters.  This is misleading, and worthy of mention.
  • Systemic racism might be relevant if Kentucky were either (1) largely Black or (2) were applying the election guidance differently based on district.  Kentucky is 8.3% Black, and each county has full authority to use the guidance as they choose.  The urban counties are taking full advantage; the rural ones have smaller budgets but are making do with volunteers.
  • While Kentucky’s (Republican) Secretary of State is ultimately responsible for the administration of elections, by state law it’s handled by an independent and non-partisan board.  Each county has its own board.  For there to be active suppression at work, half a dozen people in each of fifty counties would need to be in on the conspiracy.  On the whole, that appears a bit unlikely — particularly as a large percentage are Democrats, who one might presume would have no interest in a coverup.
  • This is a primary.  Yes, it’s hotly contested, but McConnell has no serious challengers.  There would be no point whatsoever to suppression unless the Republicans have a candidate in the Democratic primary.  Berman’s pro-UBI and McGrath is highly electable, so I very much doubt that’s the case.  It just doesn’t make sense.

Now, for the second version of the meme:


Ari’s a public figure, outspoken on voting rights.  He’s written a book on the topic, and he regularly contributes to Mother Jones.  So while he might object to the FAKE NEWS stamp, I can’t imagine he’ll be upset his name’s on a viral Tweet.  So I’ve made the decision to not crop it out; if he objects, he can email me.

While 616,525 is the proper figure, he’s close enough.  Half the state’s Black voters is an exaggeration; it’s rather closer to a third — still significant, and if you were either racist or a corrupt politician, Jefferson County would make for a decent target for suppression.  So… misleading, but not critically so.  I’ve dealt with the “3700 to 200” bit above.  Given the methods involved, I’d definitely call such a simplistic statement misleading.  Either he’s paranoid and misinformed, or he’s outright lying.  Given it’s Ari, the former is more likely.

Because here’s the real kicker:  As the clerk’s office said, “Jefferson County has had the highest voter turnout for this Primary in the history of voting in (sic) Primary’s in Jefferson County and we still have today and Election Day tomorrow.”

If this is voter suppression, it’s the least competent version I can imagine.

NOTE:  By reader request, at this link can be found certain references for this article.  Also, the Courier-Journal is providing live election updates here — so far, so good.  -Editor

A few more items for judging how this went after the fact:

  • Minor opening surge in Louisville; expected.  No more lines the rest of the day.
  • Conflicting reports from Lexington:  One has it that a student protest slowed voters, another that genuine lines were forming around noon.
  • Fayette County clerk reported opening two additional polling stations at noon, going from four to six.  He was apparently shocked at the high turnout.
  • Reports of heavy traffic in and around Lexington at 6 P.M., which is not in any way news.  Some late arrivals blamed the traffic for their inability to reach the polls before closing.  By court order, the doors were reopened (by law, the clerks couldn’t reopen without such an order) around 6:30, and I’m told 46 more people voted.  (That number cannot be confirmed.)
  • Demonstrations in Louisville reportedly came very close to breaking the law enough for law enforcement to get involved.  No arrests that I can find, which is a good thing all around.
  • Arrivals at 7:30 P.M. found the Louisville polling stations completely shut down, all materials broken down, and the clerks gone home.
  • Speeches from two competing Democratic candidates suggested we should blame Republican interference for their eventual defeat.  As of this moment, the race remains too close to call.
  • Friday morning, Jefferson County had received 185,811 absentee ballots at their office.  Total turnout is expected to be around 30% in Kentucky, which would be about three times that of other recent primary elections.

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There’s a reason your news is biased: It’s because you want it to be.

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