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Turning up turnout in Kentucky on May 18?

May 6, 2010

This year’s first major round of primary elections took place on Tuesday, and many are looking for indications not only in who won the elections but how many folks took to the polls.

An anti-incumbent sentiment among some has been widely reported, and there seems to be increased interest and activity in this year’s elections in some area. Turnout figures in Ohio, North Carolina and Indiana could offer some indication about the draw primary elections could have in other states, including Kentucky, where voters head to the polls on May 18.

In those three states, incumbents did hold on in the primary elections for the most part, and there is some indication that the unrest and dissatisfaction could translate into more folks heading to the polls, or at least more Republicans turning out.

James Taranto with the Wall Street Journal took issue with the Associated Press coverage of the primary elections in these three states, and its interpretation of the turnout figures. Taranto pulls sections from AP articles saying that “anger didn’t translate at the ballot box,” but says that the numbers don’t support that claim.

Here are some figures and analysis from Taranto’s column, which also pulls form a National Journal article about the primaries –

• Ohio Democratic turnout was down to 663,000 from 872,000 in 2006. Four years ago, neither the candidate for governor nor for senate (both of whom prevailed in the general election) had a primary opponent, whereas this year there was a competitive primary for the open seat now held by Sen. George Voinovich. On the Republican side, 728,000 voters turned out, even though the highest-ranking office with a contested primary was secretary of state.

• In North Carolina, 425,000 Democrats turned out to vote in a competitive primary to challenge Sen. Richard Burr–a turnout of 14.4%, down from 18% in 2004, when the Senate primary was uncontested and the incumbent Democratic governor “faced only a gadfly candidate.” On the Republican side, 373,000 voters turned out this year for an uncompetitive primary, up from 343,000 “in the equally non-competitive primary in ’04.”

• The Indiana Republican primary attracted 550,000 voters, up 14.6% from 2006, when Sen. Richard Lugar ran unopposed.

The high Republican Senate turnout in Indiana is no surprise, given that the primary was competitive and the seat is open. (The same is true, however, in Ohio on the Democratic side.) Bayh’s late withdrawal precluded a primary for the Democrats, who are expected to “hand-pick” Rep. Brad Ellsworth to oppose Coats. The victory of the establishmentarian Coats supports the AP’s suggestion that the results reflect “the limited influence of the conservatives and libertarians who make up the fledgling tea party coalition”–although John Fund counters in today’s Political Diary email newsletter that Coats’s unimpressive 39% showing suggests that “his latest career as a lobbyist and recent move back from Virginia worked against him.”

The fact remains that overall, turnout in these three states overall was lower than many had expected given the current political climate.

So what’s that mean for Kentucky’s primary less than two weeks from now. According to Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who himself is a candidate this year, not much.

From Tony McVeigh with Kentucky Public Radio

Kentucky’s May 18th primary election is only two weeks away, and Secretary of State Trey Grayson is predicting voter turnout will be about the same as four years ago.

In the comparable election year of 2006, 28-percent of Kentucky Republicans and 36-percent of Democrats went to the polls in the primary. Based on that, absentee balloting and anecdotal reports, Secretary of State Trey Grayson believes voter turnout May 18th will be around 30-percent. (Note: McVeigh mistakenly reported that Democratic turnout was 31 percent, not 36 percent, and I made that correction here)

“But you’ve got to remember this is going to vary significantly from county to county. There will be counties that’ll have 60-percent turnout most likely. And there will be counties that will have 10-percent.”

According to those 2006 turnout stats, Daviess County lagged far behind the state rate of 31.4 percent, with only 20.4 percent of registered voters heading to the polls in May.

I would expect that this year, Daviess County will be one of those that tops the state turnout rate given how crowded the ballot is, and how many competitive primaries there are.

There seems to be an unprecedented amount of attention being paid to the county coroner’s race, at least from the perspective of the supporters of two of the three candidates – Jeff Jones and incumbent Bob Howe. Both county and city government races offer competitive primaries, including the crowded central district county commissioner’s race, the judge-executive’s race and the 12 candidates for four spots on the Owensboro City Commission.

In fact, the only races that aren’t seeing much competition are the state legislative races. Only the 12th House District, where incumbent Democrat Jim Gooch faces challenger Larry Suess, offers a competitive party primary.

On May 18, we’ll see if a crowded ballot means crowded polling places, and I hope that it does. And remember to visit the Messenger-Inquirer’s new site – The Polling Place – before Election Day to read all of our coverage on this year’s elections.

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