FRANKFORT, Ky. — A bill in the Kentucky Senate would change how county clerks operate elections. Since the pandemic, many counties have established voting centers or a single location for multiple precincts to cast a ballot.

What You Need To Know

  • Regional county voting centers were established in Kentucky during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Voting centers allow voters to cast a ballot anywhere within the county 

  • However, Senate Bill 300 would eliminate voting centers and return to precinct-only voting 

  • State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he has concerns over voting centers in his district

On his way out the door, Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, wants to send a message about the voting center system in many Kentucky counties. Thayer’s Senate Bill 300 would eliminate vote centers under state law. He said the system is not working as intended.

“I think a better model would be, use a regional voting center for the three days of early voting but to reintroduce the precincts for election day itself," Thayer said.

Under the bill, all counties would move back to a traditional precinct style of voting, much like pre-pandemic.

Thayer said the vote center model works in some but not all counties. He added constituents in his home county, Scott, have reached out to him complaining of longer distances to get to one of its 12 voting centers.

“My concern is, people are not voting because of the longer distance to some of these regional voting centers, and in some places, the lines get pretty long," Thayer said.

Kentucky counties can currently choose how to run their individual elections. In Grant County, the clerk’s office has four voting centers where residents can choose which location is most convenient to them.

Tabatha Clemons, Grant County clerk, said the most used voting hub is in the northern part of the county, as many residents drive north on I-75 to commute to and from work. 

“They don’t have to travel back home to a precinct," Clemons said. "They don’t have to make it all the way back to where their residential address is to vote. They can vote wherever it’s most convenient."

Other counties still use only precinct voting while some use a combination.

Clemons, who is also president of the Kentucky County Clerk's Association, said the system adopted post-pandemic allows clerks to choose what works best for their individual county.

“They know their counties best," Clemons said. "Those of us who are serving every day in our local communities understand the needs of our county."

Scott County Clerk Rebecca M. Johnson said voters from both parties and countywide have overwhelmingly voiced their support for the vote center method. She said only one voter has called her office concerned about a longer drive to the ballot box with the elimination of precinct voting.

She believes taking away the accessibility and convenience voting centers offer would be bad for voters in Scott County and Kentucky, she said. 

“I think it would have a negative effect on turnout," Johnson said. "I think with this vote center model in place in Scott County, we will see higher voter turnout and will continue to see that."

The voting center model makes it easier to adapt to Scott County's continuous population growth, Johnson added. 

"We have 12 locations that have large voting rooms, plenty of accessible parking, so we can always expand on these 12 locations," she said. "It's just a matter of setting up another check-in line for voters to utilize within that same facility."

Both county clerks said having regional vote hubs instead of individual precincts has saved taxpayer dollars by using less equipment and poll workers. Thayer said most counties have gone to the regional voting center method.

"Most places have gone to voting centers because it's easier for the clerks to do, and I understand that," Thayer said. "Putting on an election is hard work, but that's their primary job. It's what they're elected to do, and I think we need to come up with a better solution than just everybody goes to these regional voting centers."

Thayer’s bill has been assigned a committee. However, he said he is not actively pushing for its passage.