Ky. voter turnout will fall short of record

It didn't pay to be first.

The line of early-bird voters at the Lexington Fire Department's headquarters on Third Street snaked around the building in the dark and down in front of a Marathon gas station, where some people stopped for coffee Tuesday morning before waiting to cast their vote.

By day's end, state officials estimated that about 65 percent of those eligible to vote in Kentucky had voted — well short of the record of 73 percent in 1992. The numbers in parts of rural Kentucky were down from the last presidential election four years ago.

According to the Secretary of State's office, in 31 rural counties reporting by mid-evening, turnout was lower than in 2004. In Morgan County, it was down by as much as 9 percent.

"The excitement about the presidential race took place in the urban areas," said Secretary of State Trey Grayson's spokesman, Les Fugate. "That's where the turnout apparatus is. There is also something about this election that just didn't resonate with rural voters."

Fugate also noted that, in 2004, the same-sex marriage amendment was on the ballot, an issue that brought many rural voters to the polls.

Perry County had a 48 percent turnout, Clerk Haven King said. That was a slight increase over previous years.

King said the county is traditionally Democratic, but chose Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama by 6,762 to 3,444 votes.

In Boyle County, turnout was 66 percent, a number that disappointed former County Clerk Denise Kurtsinger, who was helping the new clerk in Danville. "I was looking for 80 percent," he said. "I really was."

The biggest problem Tuesday was a question about whether straight-party votes were being properly counted in Kenton County. (See related story.)

In Fayette County, an entire precinct was relocated early Tuesday morning to a nearby location in Masterson Station because of an electrical problem.

Otherwise, the main complaints among voters seemed to be that there weren't enough voting machines to serve some Lexington precincts during the busiest times.

Kitty Ware, an election coordinator in the Fayette County Clerk's office, said most precincts started with two machines. There were two precincts, which had fewer than 100 voters, that had only one machine.

There were 50 machines held in reserve, ready to accommodate Fayette precincts if more voters than expected showed up. By the afternoon, half of the reserve machines had been sent out to precincts.

Diane Kincaid, 43, didn't expect the wait she found at Wildwood precinct at Southern Elementary School. She said she wondered why Fayette County didn't have other options, such as paper ballots, which are common as a backup in other counties.

"It's a presidential election," she said. "Come on; get ready."

The presumed lack of machines didn't translate into long lines all day, said election officials at many precincts, adding that most of the turnout bunched up between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m., with waits as long as two hours. The longest wait in the state, according to Fugate, was reported to be a three-hour line in Fayette County.

Fugate could not verify which Fayette precinct had that lengthy wait, but voter Laura Duffy complained that it took her three hours to vote at Sandersville Elementary School, where she said three precincts were crammed into the cafeteria.

"It was awful. The line actually crossed itself twice," she said.

One lady stormed out, irritated at the wait, but everyone else just accepted it.

Two of the three precincts voting there were carved out of newly developed areas in back of Masterson Station and off Greendale Road.

"I really think (poll workers) didn't know what to expect," she said.

Despite predictions that the worst lines would come late in the afternoon, many election workers were seeing only a few stranglers by then.

"It's been a trickle since about 3, and we had lines up to an hour and 15 minutes this morning." said Bob Russell-Tutty, an election official at the Town Branch precinct.

Voters, for the most part, persevered. One precinct had a line 500 people long and called the Fayette County Clerk's office for help. Another precinct had trouble with the machine that made the paper codes, but it was quickly fixed. People were, for the most part, polite, poll workers said. And patient.

Janel Wilkerson, 19, the last person in line at the Lexington Fire Department headquarters, had tried to vote at 10:30 a.m. but had to go back to class at Midway College after waiting an hour or so. A basketball player for the school, she fretted when her coach let practice go on until 5:30 when it was supposed to be over at 5. She made it back to the polling place just in time.

So, too, did Ben Thompson, the last man in line at the Whiteberry precinct. He had tried to vote at 6:05 a.m., but had to get kids on a bus for a field trip. He returned at the end of the day, walking quickly down the carpeted hallways of the First Baptist Church of Bracktown at 5:59 p.m.

Asked why he thought it was important to vote Tuesday, Thompson said: "It's always important to vote."