Voters experience over 2-hour wait times to vote at Northern Kentucky polling places

Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton is a reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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During Kentucky’s Nov. 8 elections, multiple Kenton County polling places experienced long lines and wait times resulting in an outcry from voters.

Voter Cynthia Waldenmaier told LINK nky that she showed up to St. Barbara Roman Catholic Church in Erlanger at 10 a.m. eager to vote. She traditionally allots one hour of time from her schedule early in the morning on Election Day.

What Waldermaier says she didn’t expect was the long lines and lack of parking at St. Barbara. The hour of time she planned for turned into a two hour and 15 minute wait, something she had never experienced on Election Day. Waldermaier noted that voters searching for parking spots at the church began to park in the grass to find a space.

“It was just a bad experience,” said Waldenmaier.

St. Barbara wasn’t the only place that experienced long lines. Multiple polling places in Kenton County had similar issues on Election Day. Jake Ryle of WCPO reported that lines were as long as two hours at Caywood Elementary and Scheben Gym. The lines resulted in complaints from voters and resurfaced questions about the processes implemented in Kenton County.

Voter Erica Schuetter told LINK nky she waited in line for one hour and 15 minutes at the River Ridge polling station in Villa Hills and noted that lines continued to grow after she had voted. According to Schuetter, the long lines snaked alongside two different hallways.

“I voted at 4:15 after waiting for 1 hour 15 min. The line was longer when I left at 4:30 than when I arrived at 3 p.m.,” Schuetter said in an email.

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Waldenmaier said she spoke to other voters at St. Barbara who ended up leaving without voting due to the long lines.

“We were there at 10 a.m. and people had already left because they didn’t want to wait in line,” Waldenmaier said. “This wasn’t something that all of a sudden spun up at 5:00 when people got off work.”

Election officials in Kenton County have offered a variety of explanations for the long lines and wait times. Kenton County Clerk Gabrielle Summe told Local 12 that there were about half the polling places during this election as compared to previous elections. There were 24 voting locations in Kenton County for the 2022 election. Prior to the 2020 election, Kenton County had 50 voting locations.

“The other issue is that some of these places don’t meet ADA compliance. We had a review during the primary,” Summe said to Local 12 reporter Jenna Cisneros. “We had to move a couple of facilities because as far as ADA was concerned, it really was very detrimental for those who would be trying to come into the facility.”

Another explanation offered was the unusually long ballot which featured a wordy constitutional amendment, municipal races which could have seven or more candidates and multiple judge races. Kenton County also used new voting equipment such as the ExpressVote touchless voting machine.

Kenton County election official Scott Kimmich told WCPO the Election Board had received complaints about voters taking too long and said voting locations in Erlanger, Elsmere and Edgewood had the longest lines due to their city council races and statewide races.

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“How can you tell a person it’s too long? They need to be educated before they vote,” Kimmich told WCPO reporter Jake Ryle. “We’re saying give them the time they need. We could technically cut them off at 3 minutes and force them out. We’re not doing that.”

However, Waldenmaier isn’t buying all the explanations from county election officials, especially about voters taking too long.

“A lot of people that were around me had papers, they went online or pre-printed out a ballot to research,” Waldenmaier said. “You highlight who you’re going to vote for and fold it up so you can get him out of there quickly.”

Summe sent a message to the media via email acknowledging voter frustrations.

“The Kenton County Board of Elections understands everyone’s frustrations with the lines on Election Day,” Summe’s email read. “As a board we will be reviewing and analyzing all the feedback provided by voters, city officials etc… We will be discussing next year’s election sooner rather than later.”

Kenton County wasn’t the only place in Kentucky that experienced long lines. Secretary of State Michael Adams addressed the long lines seen at polling places across the commonwealth in a statement.

“Although I’m proud of early voting, the solution to long lines is not to add more voting days, at least not in a non-presidential election year,” Adams said in the statement. “More than four times as many voters voted Tuesday as voted in the 3 early voting days combined. The lesson here is that, in 2023, in order to reduce lines, we need more voting locations, not more voting days.”

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Adams provided two solutions to remedy the situation in the future such as developing a statutory formula to set a floor for how many voting locations a county needs for early voting and Election Day, or have a statewide constitutional officer review and approve a local election plan that reduce voting locations.

“The busy, but smooth, election process we enjoyed was not a given,” Adams said. “It was not even expected. We prepared for much worse. Pulling this off is a testimony to the hard work of our county clerks, and state and local boards of elections and their staffs, and the amazing commitment of our selfless volunteer poll workers.”

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