Mail-in vote deluge tests elections in Kentucky, New York

Overwhelmed Kentucky and New York officials faced a deluge of mail-in votes likely to delay results for days after high-profile primaries Tuesday – contests testing whether establishment Democratic congressional candidates can withstand challengers fuelled by voter fury over racism in the United States.

There was particular concern about how voting might play out in Louisville, Kentucky. The state’s largest city and hometown of a serious challenger for the Democratic nomination for the Senate, Louisville – population nearly 600,000 – had just one in-person polling place.

But voting was moving smoothly early Tuesday, with large crowds flowing through the Kentucky Exposition Center so quickly that there was no need for people to stand and wait at the many social-distancing markers on the floor.

Each of the city’s local districts was replicated inside the vast convention centre, and plenty of poll workers were available to direct voters to their designated areas to cast their ballots. And while masks weren’t required, the overwhelming majority of voters appeared to wear them. Outside, buses shuttled people from huge parking lots to the centre’s doors.

“It was in and out, no waiting at all,” said Anthony Spicer, a 51-year-old Black man.

All of this flowed from the coronavirus pandemic, which has upended life in the US since March. Tuesday, it was on track to take its toll on voters hoping to cast ballots without long waits and for officials hoping to quickly declare winners in all but the most one-sided contests.

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 on long lines. That is likely to mean delayed election results caused by a perfect storm: far more mail-in votes than usual, and ballot-counting procedures that have not been adjusted to handle them.

The focus was on two races Tuesday. 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 Black and progressive voters.

Amy McGrath, favoured by party leaders and buoyed by a massive $41m war chest, faced an 11-hour scare as she fought to become the Democratic nominee against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She’s a former Marine combat pilot with centrist views, which top Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer view as a strong match for the Republican-heavy state.

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