Reflections on KFTC’s work in the 2020 primary election | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Reflections on KFTC’s work in the 2020 primary election

In so many ways, the primary election of 2020 was unprecedented. 

Voting during a pandemic meant delaying the primary by a month and offering new and untested options. 

An uprising in support of Black lives and in opposition to the unjust killings of Black Kentuckians at the hands of police during the final weeks added new gravity and highlighted stark differences among candidates. 

Election day was officially June 23, but Kentuckians waited a full week for results. When those results came, many were devastated – an inspiring candidate who had given us hope and united us from the hood to the holler had not won.

But November 3 is perhaps the most important election of our lives. So much is at stake. It’s critical that we elect a new U.S. senator and a new president. And that we fire Kentucky legislators who, for example, have politicized the pandemic and furthered voter suppressions. 

As KFTC members analyze and reflect on the primary, we’re committed to helping elect better leaders this fall.

How (and whether) folks voted

Despite converging crises, long lines and locked doors, Kentuckians showed up in numbers not seen for many years for a primary. Inspiring candidates, hard work from the grassroots, and winning the option to vote by mail and vote early for the first time all increased turnout. 

But many voters hadn’t heard about changes to voting or needed more information about voting by mail. Neighborhood polling locations were closed, and transportation options were limited. Larger venues and longer lines made in-person voting hard for some folks. And Kentucky’s polling hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. remain insufficient for every voice to be heard. 

Kentucky still has a ways to go to make the general election as inclusive as possible. Voting by mail and early voting are still unknowns for the November election.

The planning process should start now and include input from Kentuckians. Voting options – including absentee ballots and early voting – should be expanded.

More than a candidate 

Since KFTC established the New Power PAC and started endorsing candidates in 2010, rarely has a candidate aligned with KFTC’s values like Charles Booker, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. Booker built a movement by unashamedly speaking truth about issues that affect Kentuckians and naming his support for Medicare for All, a universal basic income and a Green New Deal. He called out structural racism as the foundation of generational poverty and united rural and urban Kentuckians.

KFTC's work in the Primary Election was recognized and reported by several state and national media outlets, including an extended interview by Trymaine Lee with KFTC Chairperson Cassia Herron on the Into America podcast.

Members also talked with The Courier-Journal, WFPL-FM, Washington Post, Reuters, Kentucky News ConnectionBowling Green Daily NewsWVXU, Al Jazeera TV, New York MagazineHuffington Post and several other media outlets.

In a Huffington Post interview, Herron said about the mail-in voting effort: “There wasn’t enough intention to be sure that we weren’t suppressing the vote,” adding that she would give election officials a “solid C” grade for their efforts. “It would have been a B-plus if they would have started the process sooner and provided [a way] for voters to have some input into the process.”

Post election, Shirlisa Arnold was on a national online panel discussion “Dispatch from the Frontlines: Safe, Free and Fair Elections in a Pandemic” organized by @WeBuildProgress. Arnold is about 36 minutes in.

Booker raised the bar for candidates in Kentucky, helping create the opportunity to ask more of the folks who seek to represent Kentuckians, to demand bold solutions to the issues Kentuckians face.

Voting rights

Some Kentuckians with a felony in their past were able to vote for the first time in this primary election, thanks to Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order last December. But because many of these folks still don’t know they might be eligible, and because the process is obscure and confusing, tens of thousands more still have not registered to vote.

Reaching these folks this summer and fall – online, on the phone and in our communities – will be a priority for KFTC.

A new narrative 

For a candidate like Charles Booker to win in Kentucky, folks need to see that Kentucky can be more and better than it is now. And we have to break down the myth that rural and urban Kentuckians don’t share many of the same challenges and aspirations. In fact, 231,000 rural and urban folks responded to Booker’s message because he spoke to their needs, values and desires for a brighter future.

Shifting the narrative about what’s possible and needed in Kentucky is a key strategy for KFTC in the fall election, and future years. We are Kentuckians. We choose each other. And we deserve candidates who will show up with us and for us.

The Big We

In this primary election, despite the pandemic, more folks had more options to engage, and they did. And Kentuckians got the chance to glimpse a better future with visionary, inspiring leaders. 

That momentum, energy and engagement can help us build a healthy democracy. Folks want more and expect more. And there’s a movement of hundreds of thousands of folks who – together – can topple the power structure that has held us back and move us toward the Kentucky we know is possible.