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Kentucky Democrats Battle for Chance to Take on McConnell

Grim forecasts of hours-long waits for Kentucky voters in the 2020 primary proved to be almost totally unfounded as the state’s foray into vote-by-mail was widely considered a success.

COVINGTON, Ky. (CN) — Rivals Amy McGrath and Charles Booker were locked in a tight race in the Democratic Senate primary in Kentucky Tuesday, and the victor is unlikely to be decided until next week due to the state's transition to mail-in voting during the Covid-19 pandemic.

With just over half of the Bluegrass State's precincts reporting their in-person vote totals, McGrath held an 8-point lead over Booker and received 44.6% of the vote compared to his 36.5%.

Vote totals for McGrath and Booker sat at 26,904 and 22,020, respectively, as of 12 a.m. Eastern time.

One of the Democrats will square off against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November.

McConnell easily bested the five Republicans who challenged him in the primary, and with 53% of precincts reporting, he had garnered 80,147 votes, good for 87.3% of the total count.

As for the presidential primary, former Vice President Joe Biden secured victory with 33,728 votes, good for 57.1% of the vote, while President Donald Trump collected 86,382 votes on his way to receiving 93.7% of the total.

Kentucky’s foray into mail-in voting was primarily a success, despite gloomy predictions from national experts and celebrities alike in the hours leading up to Election Day.

Secretary of State Michael Adams tweeted a forecast of 32% participation, including mail-in ballots, which would set a record in the state for a primary election.

While the number of polling places on Election Day was dramatically reduced to help curb potential spread of Covid-19, all registered voters were given the opportunity to vote via absentee ballot after an executive order was signed by Democratic Governor Andy Beshear in April.

The order not only postponed the primary election, but also required the state to send each registered voter a postcard with instructions for obtaining and returning their absentee ballot.

Voters file into the Northern Kentucky Convention Center to cast their ballots in Covington, Ky., on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. (Courthouse News photo/Kevin Koeninger)

County clerks were instructed to allow early, in-person voting Monday through Friday in the two weeks leading up to the election as a means of reducing large crowds at polling places and excessive wait times on Election Day.

Some counties have even allowed drive-thru voting to speed the process up and reduce the risk of workers and voters contracting Covid-19.

A week before Tuesday’s primary, Secretary of State Adams reported that more than 889,000 Kentuckians had requested absentee ballots and over 48,000 had voted early in person.

National media predicted long wait times in Jefferson County, but the single polling location at the Kentucky Expo Center in Louisville was more than capable of handling the voters.

There was a rush immediately before polls closed at 6 p.m. to get inside the building, and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker successfully sued for an injunction to extend in-person voting by 30 minutes.

More than 100 people gathered outside and banged on the doors of the Expo Center after being locked out. After about 20 minutes, they were let in by election officials.

It was no surprise Booker fought to get as many voters into the building as possible, as he continues to ride a wave of momentum that has seen him overtake his opponent Amy McGrath in some recent polls.

Kentucky State Representative Charles Booker and his family. (Photo via Charles Booker for Senate)

Booker, a Louisville native, capitalized on the month-plus delay to garner support across the state and country as he galvanized his community in the wake of protests to support Black Lives Matter and to seek justice in the wake of the police killing of Breonna Taylor.

His meteoric rise has come at the expense of establishment favorite McGrath, long seen as the Democrats’ best hope of ousting U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the general election.

poll conducted June 13 to 15 by Civiqs gave Booker an 8-point advantage over the former fighter pilot, but also had McConnell garnering more than 50% of the vote in November, regardless of his opposition.

In the same poll, of the 898 Kentuckians who responded, 59% said they have an unfavorable view of McGrath, while just 33% had a favorable view of Booker.

Absentee ballots were required to be postmarked by Election Day to be counted, and both Fayette and Jefferson counties — the state's two most populous — have already announced they will not release full results until June 30.

FILE - In This Oct. 12, 2018, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, right, stands on stage with then democratic congressional candidate Amy McGrath during a campaign event in Owingsville, Ky. Former Marine combat aviator Amy McGrath, who has raised more than $16 million in her Democratic bid to challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November in Kentucky, is endorsing Joe Biden for president. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston, File)

Campbell County, situated in the northernmost portion of the state and across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, had a single in-person polling place on Election Day at the First Baptist Church in Cold Spring.

The polls opened at 6 a.m., as a steady trickle of voters cast their ballots amid an early morning rain shower.

There were no lines outside the church, located in a county with just over 93,000 residents, and voters were in and out of the building in less than five minutes.

It was a similar story in neighboring Kenton County, which had its only polling location at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington.

A poll worker told Courthouse News at 11 a.m. there was a line of voters when polls opened, but since that time, things had moved smoothly, and voters were taking less than five minutes to complete the process.

A pair of voters outside the convention center said they chose not to vote absentee because they knew they would be in Covington on Election Day, but that their elderly parents voted by mail because of concerns over Covid-19.

While the massive number of absentee votes will do wonders for turnout numbers in Kentucky, there is a downside, as complete results of the primary will likely not be available until June 30.

Counties can begin reporting their results at 6 p.m., but the two with the largest populations in the state, Jefferson and Franklin, have already told election officials they won’t make any results public until the end of the month.

The day before the primary, social media outlets were abuzz with allegations of voter suppression when it became known that Jefferson County — home to more than 766,000 Kentuckians — would have a single polling place.

However, local media reports out of Louisville on Election Day showed little to no wait for voters, and Jefferson County is already expected to have record turnout because of the availability of absentee ballots.

Fayette County, home to Lexington and the University of Kentucky, was an outlier in terms of in-person voting success — seeing extended wait times that routinely stretched to more than an hour.

The county added more voting machines midway through Election Day, but it did little to speed up the process, and voters were still in line when polls closed.

Elsewhere, Republican Congressman Thomas Massie, who gained notoriety this year when he asked all members of Congress to return to Washington to vote on the Covid-19 stimulus bill, will be back on the ballot this November as he soundly defeated challenger Todd McMurtry. With 73% of precincts reporting, Massie received 14,462 votes, good for 88.2% of the total.

Courthouse News will continue to update this story as more results are reported.

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