Most Kentuckians aren’t going to vote on Nov. 8

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From The State Journal

Without a hot race to motivate voters, Kentucky is caught in a political malaise that will drive down turnout on Nov. 8, the state’s chief election officer predicted Monday.

Secretary of State Elaine Walker said she expects between 25 and 28 percent of the state’s registered voters to decide whether to re-elect Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear or replace him with one of two challengers, Republican David Williams or Independent Gatewood Galbraith.

“Now, I’d love to be wrong,” Walker told reporters at a Capitol press conference.

Franklin County Clerk Guy Zeigler says at this point he expects a 45 to 50 percent turnout, down from the 55 to 60 percent typically seen during gubernatorial elections here.

“I think our percentage is going to be a little down from normal governor’s and statewide races,” Zeigler said.

Walker’s turnout estimate is based on dismal early voting through absentee ballots. As of Monday, only 9,500 voters who will be away from home and unable to vote on Election Day had cast early ballots. That’s a 75 percent decline from the 37,000 people who had voted at this point in the 2007 general election when Beshear was first elected.

In Franklin County, 107 have cast absentee votes at the county clerk’s office and 64 have received paper ballots, Zeigler said.

Walker described the dramatic decline as “really very troubling.”

If Walker’s prediction comes true, voter turnout will be some 10 percentage points lower than in the 2007 election.

The predicted turnout would be little better than the 22 percent recorded in 1999 when then Democratic Gov. Paul Patton faced only token opposition from little-known Republican challenger Peppy Martin.

Walker said two factors might be at play in the lack of interest this year: Voters aren’t angry about any particular issue and therefore not interested, or they don’t know about the upcoming election.

“If voters are not upset about the way things are going in the state, there’s less interest in going to the polls,” she said.

Recent polls have shown Beshear leading Williams, his chief opponent, by 25 to 30 percentage points, despite his term coinciding with an economic recession that has unemployment still hovering near 10 percent in Kentucky and forced more than $1 billion in cuts to state agencies.

Williams, the long-time president of the state Senate, has been unable to chip away at Beshear’s lead, even with outside political groups running millions of dollars’ worth of ads.

None of the gubernatorial candidates are generating excitement, said David Adams, executive director of the conservative political group Kentucky Knows Best.

“I’d go beyond bland and say they’re horrible candidates,” he said. “I can certainly understand why people would just sit it out.”

The governor’s race tops a ballot that includes candidates for agriculture commissioner, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer, some of which the tea party has taken keen interest in.

Adams said if turnout projections prove true, the tea party could be pivotal, especially in the down-ballot races they’ve been involved with.

“I think people should vote, regardless,” he said. “I would encourage people to make the best choice that they can from the top to the bottom of the ballot.”

Kentucky now has more than 2.9 million registered voters, of which 1.6 million are Democrats, 1.1 million are Republicans, and 200,000 are independents, Libertarians or other third parties.