State, local election officials say most Kentucky votes will be counted on election night

Voters work on their ballots before casting their vote on Thursday during early voting inside the voting center at the former Burke’s Outlet Store at Towne Square Mall.

State election officials expect to have an overwhelming majority of votes counted by election night on Nov. 3, enough for people to project the likely winner in the races.

“We don’t project, the media do,” Secretary of State Michael Adams said in an interview last week, but added, “We’ll have enough votes counted for folks to make some projections.

“We will be the only state in the country that will have 85 to 90% of the vote” counted on election night, Adams said.

In Daviess County, local election officials are anticipating having perhaps up to 95% of the voting results ready for release on election night due to the state’s election plan that allows county clerk offices to begin sorting absentee ballots for counting prior to election day.

Some other states won’t even open their absentee ballots before election day.

“This is one way Kentucky is leading the country,” Adams said.

As of Thursday, more than 22,000 people have cast ballots in Daviess County, either by voting in person or by returning their absentee ballots, Daviess County Clerk Leslie McCarty said. More than 9,000 of the 13,000 absentee ballots sent out had been returned, and more than 12,829 people had early voted as of Thursday afternoon.

County clerks in Daviess, Hancock and Muhlenberg counties also expected to have 90% or more of their votes counted within hours after the polls close on Nov. 3.

“I would say we’ll have 95% of our ballots counted on election night,” Hancock County Clerk Trina Ogle said. As of Thursday, “we’ve had one-third of the registered voters vote early,” she said.

Each county was allowed to craft its own plans for the election, although those plans had to be approved by the State Board of Elections. The election is being done in advance by both early voting and some absentee voting, and with in-person voting on election day.

“I keep saying to everybody, ‘We are doing a full tripod’ ” election, Daviess County Clerk Leslie McCarty said last week. “Everything is so expanded. It takes an army of people, where before it did not.”

Anyone could vote absentee in the June primary, but now absentee ballots are limited to people who otherwise won’t be in Daviess County on election day or are prevented from voting in person, and to people who can’t vote in person out of concern over COVID-19.

Absentee ballots are already being processed in Daviess County by teams of workers, so they’ll be ready to be counted on election day. Chief Deputy Clerk Richard House said there have been few errors with absentee ballots, partly because people who voted absentee in the June primary are familiar with the process.

Also, the state has expanded the definition of ballots that are considered eligible to be counted. For example, a ballot that doesn’t have all the required signatures would be considered in compliance if the signature matches the voter signature on file with the state, House said.

“It’s allowing us to reject less ballots,’’ House said.

But any absentee ballot missing its inner envelope, or a ballot with the tab removed, is automatically rejected.

Overall, there hasn’t been much of an issue with rejected ballots in Daviess County: So far, out of the 1,600 ballots that have been processed by election workers, only nine have been rejected as of Thursday.

More than half of the absentee ballots statewide have already been returned, Adams said, and there have been few reports of problem ballots. He said as of last Monday, just 1,010 absentee ballots returned across the state had flaws.

Of those, 483 ballots had “curable” problems, and 223 of those had been cured by the voter, Adams said.

Absentee ballots can either be mailed back or deposited in drop boxes located in each county. The drop boxes are monitored by security cameras and are emptied daily.

“The drop boxes are the biggest surprise of the election cycle,” Adams said. “In other states, drop boxes became a partisan issue. The Governor and I de-politicized the election.”

The drop boxes have been popular in Daviess County.

“When we didn’t have them right away, people were contacting me saying, ‘Where is the box?’ ” McCarty said.

None of the absentee or early voting ballots will be tabulated until election night. Processing absentee ballots includes a team of workers examining ballots for signatures, the inner envelope and tab, and then sorting the ballots into stacks of 20 and recording the tally.

“It is a little slower (processing absentee ballots) this time, because we are trying to do all the double-checks because of what happened in the primary,” McCarty said. There were two instances where people voted both absentee and in-person during the primary, although those were identified later by election workers.

In Hancock County, about 150 people are early voting daily, Ogle said. There haven’t been any issues with early or absentee voting in the county.

“So far, everybody has been safe” while early voting, Ogle said. “Everything has been running smoothly.”

Muhlenberg County Clerk Crystal Smith said the county will have 90 to 95% of its ballots counted on election night, “if not higher.”

“We’ve had a huge turnout for early voting,” Smith said, adding that there has been “a good return” on absentee ballots.

“I think there will be a few stragglers that will come in, like there always is,” Smith said.

Absentee ballots that are postmarked by election day will be counted, although officials are urging people to return their ballots early.

If a person requested an absentee ballot, they will not be allowed to turn in their absentee ballot and vote in person instead, as was allowed during the primary, House said.

There are 23,000 registered voters in Muhlenberg County, and a quarter of them had voted by last Thursday, Smith said.

“We have had 28% of our register voters already vote,” Smith said. “That’s a pretty good turnout, and that’s higher than our primary. A lot of people registered and this is their first time” voting.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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