Kentucky Democrats outpacing GOP in absentee ballot requests

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Democrats have built a big lead over Republicans in requesting absentee ballots, which their candidate for U.S. Senate interpreted as a sign of voter enthusiasm for ousting GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his campaign dismissed as merely a reflection of different voting habits.

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As of Friday, Democrats held a roughly 3-to-1 advantage in ballot requests for the November election, according to figures from the secretary of state’s office. More than 40% of statewide requests have come from the counties containing the state’s two largest cities, Louisville and Lexington. Democrats have to dominate there to have a chance statewide given GOP supremacy in rural areas.

Dan Kanninen, campaign manager for Democratic challenger Amy McGrath, said Saturday that the lopsided gap so far in absentee ballot requests shows a groundswell of support for change benefiting the challenger.

“The vote-by-mail data reflects what we’ve been seeing on the ground across Kentucky — this is a tremendously engaged electorate that wants change after McConnell’s 36 years of failed leadership,” Kanninen said. “The vote totals don’t lie. People are demanding change and something very real is happening here.”

McConnell’s campaign downplayed the GOP’s deficit in mail-in absentee ballot requests.

“The June primary showed that Republicans are more likely to vote in person than by mail,” said McConnell campaign spokeswoman Kate Cooksey. “Our team is confident in the thousands of people across Kentucky who tell us daily how fired up they are to vote for Senator McConnell this fall.”

The state's voting options, adjusted to increase voter safety during the coronavirus pandemic, include early in-person voting along with Election Day balloting.

Polling has consistently shown McConnell leading McGrath in their big-spending, bitter campaign. McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term, has made a career out of drawing support from more conservative Democrats.

In Kentucky, any voters concerned about being at risk of contracting COVID-19 are able to request mail-in ballots for the general election. That eligibility to vote absentee also applies to people in contact with others who are especially vulnerable to the virus. It was part of a bipartisan agreement reached last month by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams.

Kentuckians have other options for voting, including three weeks of in-person early voting starting in mid-October along with traditional voting on Election Day. The early in-person balloting is aimed at preventing a crush of crowds on Election Day in an effort to contain the coronavirus.

As of Friday, more than 272,170 Kentuckians had requested absentee ballots, the secretary of state's office said. The total included 193,520 Democrats and 62,494 Republicans, it said. Meanwhile, more than 79,430 requests were from Jefferson County — which includes Louisville — and more than 43,000 from Fayette County, which includes Lexington.

State officials are preparing for a large turnout for the high-stakes November election. Besides the hotly contested U.S. Senate race, Kentuckians will be making their choices for president as well as in congressional and state legislative races.

For weeks, Republican President Donald Trump repeatedly alleged that mail-in voting was unsafe and vulnerable to fraud, though evidence from past elections suggests it is rare.

McGrath has held a series of voter registration events to try to broaden her support base in her uphill fight against McConnell. On Saturday, she was visiting four college campuses.

McConnell's campaign has thousands of volunteers statewide who are canvassing, making phone calls and sending text messages to potential voters every day, Cooksey said. McConnell's volunteer network far surpasses the totals from his previous campaigns.