LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As early voting opens in Jefferson County, nearly every in-person vote in the 2020 primary will be cast from one room; county clerks made sure to borrow one of Louisville's largest.
Already in 2020, a wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center has been converted into a still-unused COVID-19 field hospital. For the next week, the hospital shares a wall with a cavernous polling operation.
"Somebody said that it has got to be the biggest polling location in the country, ever," said Jefferson County Clerk Spokesperson Nore Ghiboudy. "It’s big."
To accommodate consolidated voters and deter potential virus spread, lines stretch more than half the width of the room - which could comfortably host an indoor practice for the University of Louisville football team - and have been marked with rope and "X's." Well over a hundred walled tables wait for voters to cast their choices "the old fashioned way:" by hand, and dozens of machines sit silently illuminated for those disabled or wishing to vote by that method.
Ghiboudy, however, hopes space never comes close to capacity. While, strictly speaking, mail-in voting is still not allowed in Kentucky, state officials have allowed concerns over the coronavirus pandemic as an acceptable reason for requesting an absentee ballot. The response, Ghiboudy says, has been the largest ballot request ever seen in the state. By Monday afternoon, the clerk's office had received 325,596 requests.
Such a turnout has staff rushing to fill the need. During a Monday interview with Ghiboudy, we asked him to address voters who have made concerning pleas on social media that their absentee ballots had not yet arrived despite being requested more than a week prior.
“We are waiting for the labels to come from the State Board of Elections so that we can put it on envelopes and get the ballot and put it in there… but we don’t have that many left.”
Many watched on June 9 as Georgia's primary was marred by long lines, few and/or broken voting machines, and limited provisional ballots. Ghiboudy assures Kentucky voters his office and the Expo Center are prepared to greet throngs of in-person voters, with 36 ballot-reading machines and enough provisional ballots should the need arise.
June 23 is set to be the first test of the state's system, as the coronavirus remains unpredictable and a monumental general election season looms fewer than five months from now.