Kentucky Political News Headlines

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

2020 Election Preview

2020 Election Preview

Legislative elections take place this year, with all 100 House seats and half (19) of Senate seats up for re-election in November. The COVID-19 pandemic has required many changes, including how and when Kentuckians will cast their vote in the primary election. Originally scheduled for May 19, the primary election will now be held on June 23. Given the primary is just over a month away we wanted to provide a preview of the races and some additional dynamics impacting them. We have prepared this multi-tabbed spreadsheet, which is also attached, based on records from the Secretary of State's office as of May 13, which provides a listing of the candidate filings for the primary and general elections.  

- The Senate is controlled by GOP 28-9 with 1 vacancy (Sen. Harris) heading into this election cycle.
- The Senate spreadsheet shows that of 19 Senate seats up for election in November, 5 are uncontested (3 Dem & 2 GOP). Of the remaining 14 contested seats they are currently controlled (4 Dem & 10 GOP). 
- 3 GOP incumbents face Libertarian party candidates (Meredith, Westerfield, and West) and Sen. Reggie Thomas (D-Fayette) faces a write-in candidate.  
- Looking at the Senate primary races, 6 seats will have contested primaries. In 2 of those races the winner will hold the seat, because there is no challenger in the general election.
- Two incumbents have primary challengers, Sen. Albert Robinson (R-Laurel) and Sen. Rick Girdler (R-Pulaski). In Sen. Girdler's race, the winner takes all as there is no general election challenger. 
- There is one special election being held on primary day to replace Sen. Ernie Harris (R-Oldham) who retired on April 15. The winner of the special election will serve Harris' unexpired term, until 2022. Democrats nominated Kathy Berg, a physician who Sen. Harris beat in November 2018. Republicans nominated Bill Ferko, an executive and local GOP activist. The winner of the June 23 special election will take the seat, which has been held by Republicans for more than 20 years.   

- The House is controlled by GOP 62-38 heading into this election cycle.
- The House spreadsheet shows 100 House seats are up for election in November, 23 are uncontested (11 Dem & 12 GOP). Of the remaining 77 contested seats they are currently controlled (27 Dem & 50 GOP).
- Looking at the House primary races, 28 seats will have contested primaries with two of the seats having contested primaries for both parties bringing the total number of House primary races to 30. In 12 of those races the winner will hold the seat, because there is no challenger in the general election.
- 11 Incumbents have primary challengers: 3 Democrats - Miller, Burch, Kulkarni & 8 GOP - Rudy, Webber, McCoy, Upchurch, Osborne, Brenda, Yates, & R. Huff. 8 of these primary races featuring incumbents will be winner take all elections as there are no general election challengers.
- 9 of the 11 GOP incumbents with a primary challenger serve in Leadership or as a Committee Chair, including Speaker Osborne, Majority Floor Leader Rudy, and Majority Whip McCoy. 

Supreme Court
- Kentucky has one Supreme Court seat on the ballot this election cycle. It is currently held by Justice Sam Wright and the district is located in Eastern Kentucky.
- Justice Wright is running for re-election and has drawn two challengers. State Representative Chris Harris (D-Pikeville) is leaving the legislature to run for this seat. Judge Bob Conley from the northeastern part of the state has also filed to run.  
- This is a nonpartisan race, and since there are three candidates, the top two vote getters in the primary will advance to the general election in November.  

Additional Dynamics
Due to COVID-19, Governor Andy Beshear and Secretary of State Michael Adams by executive order have approved and are encouraging the use of mail-in ballots through an expanded absentee program. The State Board of Elections will mail a postcard to every voter informing them of their options. Voters will have to request an actual mail-in ballot. Counties will not staff normal polling precincts but will offer the option for in-person ballots both before and on Election Day at a smaller number of locations. 

It's not clear what impact all of these changes will have on voter turnout although when implemented in other states, there is some evidence of an increase in first-time voters and voters who do not usually participate in primary elections. The pandemic may have a significant impact on the primary election due to the lack of in-person fundraisers and the change in voting procedures.