By Ronnie Ellis/CNHI News Service
All the attention on Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race and talk of an “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats may lead some to anticipate a healthy turnout in next Tuesday’s election. But Secretary of State Trey Grayson thinks it will be about normal for an election with a senate seat and local officials on the ballot.
Grayson on Wednesday predicted roughly a 48 percent turnout — “about the level of historic trends.” Grayson compares election cycles not to the previous year but to previous elections when the same sort of choices confronted voters.
The last election in which there was a contested U.S. Senate race but no presidential election was 2002 when Republican Mitch McConnell defeated Democrat Lois Weinberg for the Senate. Turnout that year was 47.8 percent.
“If you look at the history, we’re in the high 40s and there’s no reason for that to change,” Grayson said.
Presidential elections usually produce the highest turnout followed by elections for local officials who are on the ballot this year. But Sarah Ball Johnson, executive director of the state Board of Elections, said most of those elections were decided in the primary.
“If county, or city or metro, races are contested, people are more likely to come out,” Johnson said. “There are some counties with competitive local races, but in most counties those were decided in the primary.” She said turnout might be higher in those counties with contested general elections for local offices.
Grayson said heated mayoral races might also drive higher turnout in the state’s two largest cities, Louisville and Lexington, but he expects turnout to be about normal for such an election cycle in rural areas.
Kentucky has just more than 1.6 million registered Democrats, just more than 1 million registered Republicans, and there are just under 200,000 voters who are registered either as independent or with minor parties.
Grayson said results Tuesday night might be delayed in counties where there are write-in candidates, a higher number of which are running this year. Kentucky requires such candidates to file an intent to wage a write-in campaign and has developed rules for determining which votes to count. For instance, write-in votes using only first names are not counted, but last name only votes are counted if the candidate with that name has filed the necessary paperwork. The deadline to do that has passed.
Madison County has a contested race for sheriff that includes a write-in candidate who is given a chance of winning. Incumbent Sheriff Nelson O’Donnell narrowly lost the Democratic primary to Jerry Combs and is now running a formal write-in campaign against Combs and Republican Irving Whitaker.
Johnson said many counties don’t count write-in votes until the next morning because they have to be counted manually.
Madison uses the eScan, according to Deputy Clerk Jessica Conner, but the machine only provides a total number of write-ins. That might indicate whether there are a sufficient number of write-in votes to place the final outcome in doubt, but it won’t by itself resolve the outcome.
“The county board of elections will then go back and look at each ballot,” Conner said. She said the final, official results aren’t likely to be known until sometime Wednesday.
Kentucky is likely to be in the national spotlight Tuesday, both because of the attention shown to the senate race but also because the race in the Sixth Congressional District might serve as a harbinger for national trends. Republican Andy Barr, a member of former Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s administration, is in a close race with incumbent Democrat Ben Chandler. When the race began, Chandler was viewed as safe but the race has tightened and many think if Barr can pull off the upset it will be an indication of a national Republican wave. Republicans are favored to gain control of the U.S. house (they need a minimum of 39 net pickups) but not so likely to take control of the Senate where they’d need to gain 10 seats.
Voters may learn if they are properly registered and in what precinct they vote by visiting www.elect.ky.gov/vic.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort, Ky. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.