Update: This story originally appeared on Feb. 27. Upon review, we have added some information to give greater context to the issue of polling locations in Kenton County. We have also revised some factual errors. –LINK nky editorial, Feb. 28
A proposed change in the number of Kenton County polling places stalled at the state’s Board of Elections last week, according to Gabrielle Summe, Kenton County clerk and chair of the Kenton County Board of Elections.
The county’s plan went before the state’s board of elections on Tuesday, Feb. 21, but the Kentucky Board of Elections refused to confirm the proposals until further discussion could take place. 13 other counties were given the same treatment. The board agreed to hold a special meeting for additional discussion later this week, although they were not able to decide on a specific date.
As LINK nky previously reported, some Kenton County polling places in the 2022 general election were plagued with long lines and wait times, a situation that prompted criticism from Kenton County leaders. Many leaders, including both Covington’s Mayor Joe Meyer (as well as the city commission) and Independence’s Mayor Chris Reinersman attributed the logistical problems to the county’s decision to consolidate the number of polling places from 47 to 24.
Kentucky law gives county boards of elections the power to propose voting precincts and polling places to the Kentucky Board of Elections for final approval. If a county board fails to submit a plan for precincts and polling places, state law mandates that one polling location be established per precinct. According to the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office, Kenton County currently has 70 voting precincts.
“Last November’s election was a disaster,” said Covington Mayor Joe Meyer at the Kentucky Board of Elections meeting on Tuesday.
He also added that he and several other leaders in the county, including Mayor Jessica Fette of Erlanger, hoped to return to a polling place plan based on the number of precincts, rather than the revised plan submitted by the county.
Summe addressed the previous elections operations issues at a meeting of the Kenton County Mayors Group on Feb. 18. During the conversation, Summe described the measures the board planned on taking to make voting in this year’s elections easier for Kenton County residents.
Kenton County’s Board of Election’s proposal to the state has 34 polling places, an increase from the 2022 general election but a decrease from prior elections.
“I just don’t expect this ever to be easy,” she said, addressing the officials in the room.
At the meeting, Summe offered her own assessment of the reasons for the problems, which echo statements she gave in LINK’s coverage from earlier in February.
“There is not one factor that created what has happened,” she said.
Laws regarding elections changed in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. The first was the increased reliance on early voting, which Summe claimed was more heavily used during the primary than the general election and which may have skewed the board’s expectations for the general elections. Only about 7% of voters used early voting during the general election.
“So that tells me that my–or our–county has more of a culture that they want to vote in-person on election day versus in-person early,” she said.
Other factors that Summe believes created the long lines include the length of the ballot: a two sided 11″ x 17″ piece of paper that included 12 judges’ races and two constitutional amendments.
“The ballot itself, for the most people who knew what they wanted to vote on,” Summe said, “took at least 10 minutes.”
Voters who were not knowledgeable on all of the issues and candidates and had to do research at the ballot box probably took longer to vote, she said.
Summe also addressed issues related to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that mandates all polling locations in the country be able to accommodate people with disabilities who may have limitations with mobility.
In January, the Department of Justice and Kenton County reached a settlement following a complaint from the public about inaccessibility at some of the polling locations. Summe did not know the identity of the person who made the complaint.
The settlement induced the county to sign a consent decree, which requires it to perform surveys of the voting locations and provide necessary workarounds in the form additional ramps, repairs and other modifications to make buildings more accessible. It also required additional training for poll workers. The settlement did not force any polling location to make permanent changes to their buildings.
Following the settlement, the Kenton County Fiscal Court hired Prime Engineering, a private engineering firm out of Cincinnati, to consult on necessary changes. The consent degree the Board of Elections signed with the Dept. of Justice will stay in effect for three years and requires approval on proposed ADA modifications following approval from the state.
The following locations have been submitted for approval to the Kentucky Board of Elections:
- Beechgrove Elementary School in Independence
- Calvary Baptist Church in Covington
- Crescent Springs City Building
- Crestview Hills Administration Building
- Edgewood Senior Center
- Elsmere Senior Center
- Emerald Springs Clubhouse in Crescent Springs
- Ft. Wright Civic Club
- Ft. Mitchell City Building
- The Gardens of Park Hills in Park Hills
- Glenn O. Swing Elementary School in Covington
- Independence Senior Center
- J.G. Carlisle Elementary School in Covington
- Kenton Baptist Church in Morning View
- Kenton County Garage
- Kenton County Government Center in Covington
- Lakeside Christian Church in Lakeside Park
- Kenton County Public Library-Erlanger branch
- Kenton County Public Library-Covington branch
- Kenton County Public Library-Independence branch
- Lookout Heights Civic Club in Ft. Wright
- Ludlow Senior Center
- Madison Ave. Christian Church in Covington
- Moore Activity Center in Covington
- Piner Baptist Church in Morning View
- River Ridge Elementary School in Villa Hills
- Ryland Heights Elementary School in Ryland Heights
- Scheben Gym in Erlanger
- Scott High School Woodland Campus in Taylor Mill
- St. Barbara’s Church in Erlanger
- Summit View Elementary School in Independence
- Taylor Mill Elementary School in Taylor Mill
- Turkeyfoot Middle School in Edgewood
- Twenhofel Middle School in Independence
Watch the Kentucky Board of Elections Feb. 21 meeting at their YouTube page.