Kentucky and NY brace for days-long vote count

Kentucky and NY brace for days-long vote count
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A surge in absentee and mail-in voting in Tuesday’s primaries in Kentucky and New York could leave several key primary races undecided for days or even weeks.

Dozens of states have moved to expand absentee balloting for the primaries amid the coronavirus pandemic, fearing that high turnout and crowded polling places could pose a massive threat to public health.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) signed an executive order allowing all of the state’s 3.5 million registered voters to request absentee ballots without providing an excuse for doing so. Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoGovernors air frustrations with Trump on unemployment plans State aid emerges as major hurdle to reviving COVID-19 talks Nearly 100,000 children tested positive for coronavirus over two weeks last month MORE (D) ordered mail-in ballot applications to be sent to every registered voter in the state.

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But the decision to expand mail-in voting means that winners and losers may not be declared for days or even longer, an outcome that’s likely to be repeated in November as states continue their shift to mail-in ballots.

Mail-in ballots in Kentucky, for instance, must be postmarked by Tuesday and received by June 27, four days after the primaries. In New York, absentee ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday and received no later than June 30, meaning that officials there won’t begin counting absentee ballots until a week after the primaries.

Officials have been lowering expectations for quick outcomes in the primaries. Melissa DeRosa, the secretary to the governor in New York, warned last month that results in at least a few races may be delayed due to a surge in mail-in ballots.

“There is a very real possibility that certain elections won’t be called on election night,” DeRosa said at a news conference in early May. “That is a reality people should prepare for.”

“The hope is the majority of the people are going to be mailing in their absentee ballot,” she added. “And so we want to make sure that the counting process is done right and it’s thorough and that people continue to have confidence and faith in democracy. And so that may mean that certain elections are called a couple of days afterwards to make sure the counts are done properly.”

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Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams (R) announced last week that neither his office nor the State Board of Elections would “be able to offer the usual online election night reporting” due to the increased volume of mail-in ballots, many of which may not be received until after Tuesday.

He also said that the state’s two largest counties, Jefferson, where Louisville is located, and Fayette, which includes Lexington, had chosen to withhold all results until June 30, the last day for counties to report election returns.

“Under normal circumstances, the State Board of Elections receives and reports all preliminary election results on election night,” Adams said in a statement. “However, because we, like other states voting during the pandemic, have accommodated voters by letting them mail ballots on election day, not every vote will be in hand by election night.”

The decision to expand mail-in voting has also brought with it new limits on in-person voting.

Fewer than 200 polling places will be open on primary day in Kentucky. In Jefferson County, the most populous in the state, primary day voters will have only one place to cast their ballots, the Kentucky Expo Center in Louisville. In Fayette County, the second-largest in the state, the one in-person polling site will be Kroger Field, the football stadium at the University of Kentucky.

The polling site reductions have been less drastic in New York, though some counties have consolidated precincts into fewer locations.

The expected delays in election results could leave a handful of close primaries hanging in the balance.

Former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman and 16-term Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Esper confirms plans to drop below 5,000 troops in Afghanistan | State Department says it's cleared of wrongdoing in emergency arms sales before investigation's release State says it will be cleared by watchdog report US 'deeply concerned' over election in Belarus MORE (D) are locked in a tight race in New York’s 16th Congressional District. The same is true in Kentucky, where state Rep. Charles Booker and former Marine combat pilot Amy McGrath are locked in a heated battle for the Democratic Senate nomination there.

Booker has surged in polls in the final weeks of the primary race after McGrath spent months as the front-runner and prohibitive favorite to win the nomination. That sets up a dynamic in which mail-in ballots received closer to election day could benefit Booker, even if McGrath leads in early voting.

“He’s got the momentum,” said Mark Riddle, a Kentucky-based Democratic strategist who runs the liberal political nonprofit Future Majority. “Whether or not he can catch Amy down the home stretch has yet to be determined, but we have a race.”

Both Kentucky and New York have seen a huge influx in the number of absentee ballot requests. In Kentucky, nearly 890,000 of the state’s 3.5 million registered voters had requested absentee ballots as of last Tuesday, the last day to do so, according to the secretary of state’s office.

New York has seen a similar surge in absentee ballots. As of June 12, nearly 1.1 million absentee ballot requests had been received by election officials. By comparison, fewer than 158,000 absentee ballots were requested in the 2016 presidential primary, according to the state Board of Elections.

Other states have experienced delays in reporting election results after expanding and encouraging mail-in voting for their primaries.

Earlier this month in Georgia, a Democratic primary for the Senate was left in limbo for nearly 24 hours after voting ended as elections officials scrambled to count absentee ballots. Other contests in the state dragged on for even longer; the Democratic primary in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, for example, dragged on for a week after primary day.

Pennsylvania, which held its primaries on June 2, saw similar delays. Vote counting continued in some counties more than a week after polls closed.