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Absentee ballot requests have nearly doubled this primary season, but that may not translate to higher turnout

Josh James

With primary elections just around the corner in Kentucky, it's typically time for a voter turnout prediction from the state's top election official. But judging how many voters will cast a ballot isn’t quite as simple as it used to be.

For decades, the formula for estimating voter turnout in Kentucky was fairly straightforward: Take the number of absentee ballot requests and multiple it by 50 and you’d get pretty close, according to Secretary of State Michael Adams.

And how are those numbers looking this year?

"We've had about twice as many requests... for absentee ballots in this cycle than we had at this point four years ago."
Secretary of State Michael Adams (on KET)

So while a shift toward higher primary turnout could be in the works, Adams tells KET's Connections, "could" is the key word.

"We're not sure if that means higher turnout or if people that were exposed to absentee voting in 2020 for the first time loved it and want to do it again, so it's harder this time to make a prediction," the top election official explained.

Voter turnout in the last pre-pandemic primary was only around 20 percent.

But there have been some tweaks to the options thanks to voting reforms. Early no-excuse in-person voting will last for three days. Other eligible voters can cast an excused in-person early vote over six days at local County Clerks' offices.

Lexington’s early voting starts Thursday at Kroger Field.

As another election nears, officials are also hoping new laws will help combat misinformation about Kentucky’s voting process and better protect poll workers from harassment.

One persistent claim among election critics that’s helped fuel conspiracy thinking deals with whether or not Kentucky voting machines are connected to the internet.

"Unfortunately there are people who are spreading false information about our election system. In many cases, they are literally selling tickets, selling admission to their presentations where they allege irregularities and vote stealing in our process and all of this is just blatantly false."
Secretary of State Michael Adams

Adams added it’s already the case that the machines do not connect to the internet, but lawmakers — weary of fielding calls about the issue — decided to codify a rule making that kind of connection explicitly illegal.

House Bill 564 also deals with the problem of increasing harassment targeting volunteers and election officials. Adams told KET the bill creates expanded definitions meant to shield election workers.

"This broad definition and this language now protects me and my staff. We got threats and abuse. It protects the Boards of Elections. It protects the poll workers," the secretary said. "There are 15,000-plus people that it takes to run an election in Kentucky and we want them all feeling protected."

Kentucky’s primary is set for May 17.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.