Why was voter turnout low in the gubernatorial race?

Although several controversial issues drove voters to the polls this general election, Kentucky’s voter turnout was just 38%.
Published: Nov. 8, 2023 at 11:24 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Although several controversial issues drove voters to the polls this general election, Kentucky’s voter turnout was just 38%. That’s down around 4% from the previous governor’s race in 2019.

Just 1.3 million Kentuckians voted in the gubernatorial election, compared to more than 1.4 million back in 2019.

Dr. Stephen Voss, an associate professor of political science with the University of Kentucky who studies voting behavior, said the lack of turnout can mostly be attributed to a lack of enthusiasm.

“The number one thing that determines if somebody wants to vote, if they have their voting rights, is whether they feel like voting,” Voss said. “If they’re politically engaged and motivated, they show up.”

Voss said there simply wasn’t enough enthusiasm among Republican voters this time around, demonstrated by low turnout in some key Republican counties.

“It tended to be especially low in areas that have often turned out in larger numbers for Republicans in the past,” Voss said.

Meanwhile, Beshear was able to dominate in areas like southeast Kentucky where counties were hit hard by flooding and counties with ties to the coal industry.

He was also able to dominate in democratic strongholds like Fayette and Jefferson County, which had significantly higher turnout than other parts of the state.

In Jefferson County, over 256,000 voters cast their ballots. In Fayette County, over 103,000 voted.

“In the bulk of the state, Andy Beshear got more than he needed in order to win a close contest,” Voss said.

Voters were able to partake in early voting for the first time in a gubernatorial election. However, Voss said having early voting doesn’t mean turnout will be higher. In fact, in some cases, he said it can backfire.

Not only are people less likely to head to the polls in groups on election day, but he said interest groups and campaigns may not do as much outreach leading up to election day.

“If a large chunk of the electorate has already cast their ballots by the time election day is approaching, you don’t get as much bang for your buck,” Voss said.

Delores Pregliasco, the president of the League of Women Voters of Louisville, believes the state needs better voter education. For example, she said some voters in Jefferson County confused their early voting location with their polling location.

She said she’d like to see more resources directed toward making voting more accessible.

“Bobbie Holsclaw’s office always brags that they turn money back to the county,” Pregliasco said. “That should be used for better polling situations, more polling situations, and better education. Just because you live in one part of the county and work in another part, why can’t you vote where you work because it makes it easier?”

The group, which aims to encourage the public to participate in government, tries to get people to vote through the issues that matter to them.

“If you’re interested in taxes, if you’re interested in crime and safety, if you’re interested in education, these are all good reasons to vote,” Pregliasco said. “So we’ve been talking to people a lot and I use the expression that all issues are voting issues.”

The Jefferson County Clerk’s Office sent the following statement:

“Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw has and always will prioritize keeping voters informed about the free, fair, and secure election process. Her office gives civic lessons to high school students getting ready to vote for the first time and to international learners getting insight into how elections work locally. Her office contracts with a third party to deliver informational postcards to the county’s registered voters. Her Office also has a separate set of informational push cards available at each of our branch locations to give out during the last days before the deadline to register to vote. Her Office not only posts information on two County Clerk websites and a Facebook page, but also make a social media push through Facebook ads to maximize a digital presence and encourage voters to cast their ballots. Her Office regularly appears at local events to help educate people in person.

These are but a few of the ways that her Office works to ensure that when voters go to the polls, they know as much about the process as possible.

We were pleased to share how we work to educate voters with the League of Women Voters prior to Election Day as part of an in-person forum, where we detailed our efforts.

Under Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw’s leadership, the Office makes judicious use of the resources available to us for election considerations. Whether they’re educational, polling site, staffing, or other factors, we work to empower voters to be able to voice their choices at the ballot box. Any notions otherwise are simply without merit.

Our preference is always to engage with community partners in the spirit of cooperation when it comes to elections or any other service the Office provides the public.”

You can see Kentucky’s general election results here.