Tuesday's election to feature changes at the polls

February 15, 2004|GARY MOYERS

Tuesday's special election pitting Democrat Ben Chandler, Republican Alice Forgy Kerr and Libertarian Mark Gailey for the vacated Sixth Congressional District seat will have a few new twists at the voting booths.

The most visible change will be the proximity of campaign signage and lobbying for votes. In January, a federal appeals court threw out seven of Kentucky's political campaign laws, including the ban on electioneering within 500 feet of polling places.

The state House is working on a bill that would establish the perimeter at 100 feet, but HB 344 has not been passed yet.

"The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of 100-foot restrictions in other states, but we have no guidelines here," said Boyle County Clerk Denise Curtsinger. "We're simply enforcing the electioneering ban from the door, because we have no guidelines. But if the legislature does something by Tuesday morning, that could change. We could have a case where we're making a mad dash Tuesday morning to all the precincts to change the signs, or pull them up."


The 500-foot restriction in previous Kentucky elections was struck down by the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati after Hobie Anderson ran a write-in campaign for governor in 1999. Anderson filed suit challenging the restriction, saying it violated his right to free speech.

Representatives from the two major parties in Boyle County say they plan to play by the old rules.

Boyle County Judge-Executive Tony Wilder, who also chairs the Boyle Democratic party, said Democratic workers plan to campaign using the previously-existing 500-foot limitations.

A spokesman for the Kerr for Congress committee in Boyle County said they have discussed the fact that there is no law in existence for this election, but the party plans to observe the old restrictions as well.

New provisional voter law

Another change that could have come into play Tuesday is Kentucky's new provisional voter law, enacted following the federal government's "Help America Vote Act" signed into law in October 2002. Under the new state law, voters who show up at the polls but whose names can't be found in the precinct rolls may be allowed to vote on a provisional ballot, and an audit at the clerk's office after the election will determine the validity of the vote.

"It's designed to clear up problems such as when a voter moves from one county to another, or mistakes in the precinct rolls, or other situations in which the voter's eligibility can't be readily determined at the precinct," said Curtsinger.

The process is akin to that employed by an absentee voter, except the voter is actually at the polling place. If the name can't be found on the voter rolls and a call to the clerk's office doesn't readily establish eligibility, the voter will be asked to fill out a paper ballot and place it in a special envelope labeled "provisional ballot." The voter will then be asked to complete a voter's oath and other requirements certifying true information has been provided.

Those provisional ballots will be audited when the polls close at 6 p.m. to establish their validity.

"Based on previous elections, I don't expect Boyle County to have a lot of those," said Curtsinger. Still, she said, it eliminates a possible problem that could arise if a registered voter is not allowed to vote by mistake.

"There are a lot of states who will be watching us Tuesday, because we're one of the first places in the country to test this new law out," said Curtsinger.

The Sixth District seat is the only race on the ballot in an election that Curtsinger predicts will have a relatively low turnout locally. Voters in the district, which includes Boyle, Garrard, Mercer and part of Lincoln counties, will revisit the same race in May when a primary is held to fill the seat permanently. The seat became vacant when Ernie Fletcher resigned the seat to become governor in January. Tuesday's election will select a representative to fill out the term, which expires in December.

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