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Voting largely smooth in primaries in Kentucky, New York

Kentucky

Voters fill out their ballots during in person voting in the Kentucky Primary at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., Tuesday, June 23, 2020. In an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, neighborhood precincts were closed and voters that didn’t cast mail in ballots were directed to one central polling location. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

LOUISVILLE, KY (AP) — Voting appeared to be running smoother in primaries on Tuesday than in elections held two weeks earlier in Georgia and Nevada, where voters experienced long lines and stood for hours outside polling places.

While there were reports of some voters in New York and Kentucky having to cast ballots in person after failing to receive an absentee ballot, it did not appear to be causing the long lines that were seen in places like Milwaukee and Atlanta.

The longest wait times were reported at the lone voting site in Lexington, Kentucky. Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins said he added two more check-in stations at the Lexington site after turnout remained steady into the late morning with voters reporting a wait time of about an hour and a half.

“This is definitely the longest that I’ve ever waited,” said 55-year-old Bob Woods, who spent nearly an hour and fifteen minutes winding through the entryway of Kroger Field on the University of Kentucky’s campus with several hundred others before approaching the room where voters were being checked in.

But voting was moving smoothly in Louisville, the state’s most populous city, despite the fact residents had just one polling place available Tuesday for in-person voting.

Each of the city’s local districts was replicated inside the Kentucky Exposition Center, and plenty of poll workers were available to direct voters to their designated areas to cast their ballots.

“They should have more (elections) like this. You can get in and get out quick,” said 70-year-old Mary Moorman, an African American woman who said she did not have to wait in lines like she normally would, though she noticed that there were few passengers on the bus she took from her West End neighborhood to the Exposition Center.

Voting advocates said they were concerned some voters stayed home because it was too difficult for them to get to the city’s lone polling place.

“We don’t know how many voters in Jefferson County could not access the Expo Center today, and it’s unfortunate they were left with only one option,” said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Indeed, Michael Baker, an African American man who is also from the West End, was dissatisfied with the location because it was far away from where he lived.

“In my neighborhood, most people don’t have cars,” he said. “It’s not fair for them to have one site, and it be so far away from people who are not able to commute here.”

In New York City, much of the complaints fielded by voter protection groups centered on polling places that opened late and voters reporting they had not received both pages of their ballot.

Despite the relatively smooth process, Clarke said that “there’s a lot of work to do to get ready for November.”

Races in New York and Kentucky were the biggest focus of the day. In both, Democrats were waiting to see if nationwide protests sparked by last month’s killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody would translate to decisive turnout by African American and progressive voters.

Amy McGrath, favored by party leaders and buoyed by a massive $41 million back account, faced an eleventh-hour scare from first-term state legislator Charles Booker as she fought to become the Democratic nominee against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. She’s a former Marine combat pilot with centrist views, backed by top Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as a strong challenger for McConnell in the Republican-heavy state.

Booker’s underfinanced campaign caught fire after he attended recent protests against the March police killing of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in her Louisville home. That helped him win support from progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and the state’s two largest newspapers.

Meanwhile, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., embraced by a who’s who of prominent Democrats, was battling for a 17th term.

His challenger is educator and political neophyte Jamaal Bowman, who has drawn strength from anti-racism protests and his accusations that Engel has grown aloof from his district in parts of the Bronx and Westchester. Engel is supported by Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Congressional Black Caucus. He’s also outspent Bowman, who’s been helped by progressive groups and a coveted endorsement by The New York Times.

Virginia was also holding congressional primaries, and there was one Republican House runoff each in North Carolina and Mississippi.

Like other states, Kentucky and New York have made it easier for voters to cast ballots by mail instead of risking exposure to the virus by waiting in long lines. That is likely to mean delayed election results, with far more mail-in votes than usual and ballot-counting procedures that haven’t been adjusted to handle them.

Kentucky has been so overwhelmed by an increase in mail ballots that the state’s two biggest counties, Jefferson and Fayette, aren’t planning to release results on election night, said Secretary of State Michael Adams. Jefferson County is home to Louisville.

Kentucky typically receives few mail ballots but expects them to account for the majority of votes this time. With the state now allowing any registered voter to vote by mail, more than 400,000 mail ballots were returned as of Sunday. All mail ballots received by June 27 will be counted.

New York officials expect the vast majority of votes to be mail ballots this year, compared to their typical 5% share. Counties have until eight days after Election Day to count and release the results of mail ballots, with 1.7 million requested by voters.

Other notable contests Tuesday included an effort by one-time CNBC anchor and former Republican Michelle Caruso-Cabrera to grab the Democratic nomination from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. Ocasio-Cortez, who has become a progressive icon, was an unknown 28-year-old when she won a 2018 primary over longtime Rep. Joe Crowley, who seemed in line to become House speaker.

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