Thursday 23rd March 2023

Barren officials hopeful more voting centers will be available in fall

FILE: Helena Birdwell, Barren County clerk, participates in an election drawing with candidates early this year ahead of the primary election in Kentucky.


GLASGOW — The general election this November in Barren County could look different than the primary as officials seek to put more voting locations in place.

Magistrates heard from Helena Birdwell, county clerk, at a June 21 meeting of the Barren Fiscal Court regarding a plan to place voting centers in most magisterial districts. There are seven across the country, but one is not in the plan since it is close to two other centers. She again urged magistrates Tuesday to decide whether they wanted to approve the purchase of more election equipment.

“We’re trying to do our best to cover all throughout the county,” she said. “We’re just doing our best try to meet the expectations of the voters.”

Four voting centers were in place for the primary election held in May. Those locations included Barren County High’s gymnasium, Haywood Fire Department, Austin Tracy Fire Department and the Cave City Convention Center.

The latest quote for voting equipment was $39,741, which includes handicap machines and scanners.

Elections across the county changed in 2020 due to added precautions considering the pandemic, and Barren County was not different. Traditional precincts were abandoned here and consolidated to “voting centers” for the first time in county election history, and it left some voters confused and disappointed.

“If we want them, we kind of need to find the money so that we can make this purchase very quickly if we want to get them for November,” Birdwell said. “If not, then we’ll not be able to add those additional voting centers.”

The creation of these voting centers requires some pieces to move in the bigger puzzle, however.

A state law in place restricts the county from spending more than 65% of any fund in its budget before Jan. 1 during the fourth fiscal year. The limitation also coincidentally aligns with Kentucky’s local election calendar.

Birdwell said the elections budget included about $20,000 for three new machines when it was drafted. The prospect of adding voting centers in each magisterial district was not discussed then, which means the funding needed to buy machines for those prospective centers was not included either.

“It’s going to go over budget,” said Jenny Hoffman, county treasurer, in a phone call with WCLU News on Wednesday.

Hoffman said she sent on Wednesday morning an email to the Department for Local Government for an exemption to the “65/35 Rule.” The DLG could approve the request as soon as Thursday, and the county could then authorize the purchase of new election machines. Funding is expected to be obtained from the General Fund, according to the motion magistrates approved Tuesday.

The Kentucky Board of Elections reimburses some of the money to the county for machines purchased. Details about whether the most recent expenditures for the primary had been reimbursed were not available at the fiscal court meeting.