by Chris Mayhew, email@example.com –
Northern Kentucky county clerks are being inundated with calls they can’t answer about Kentucky’s March 5 Republican presidential caucus.
People are angry and confused about why the caucus is happening at all and why there is only one location to vote in each county, said Campbell County Clerk Jim Luersen.
County clerk offices in Kentucky run all elections, but not political party caucuses.
For 2016, the Republican Party of Kentucky (RPK) chose to have a caucus in lieu of the traditional presidential primary. The Democratic presidential hopefuls, however, are on the ballot for the May 17 primary election, as are non-presidential GOP and Democratic races.
Luersen’s staff tells voters to call an RPK caucus hotline at 502-607-8970 or visit its website rpk.org.
“People are upset,” Luersen said. “All we’re doing is listening to them complain and giving them the phone number. It’s frustrating.”
Luersen said he doesn’t mind answering questions, and most people are understanding when they learn government has nothing to do with the caucus. RPK is a private political party.
Kentucky’s Republican presidential caucus will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 5. Registered Republicans will vote for their choice of a presidential nominee.
Five candidates remain from the original field of 11: retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and businessman Donald Trump. Trump will visit Louisville Tuesday.
Kentucky Republicans have never had a presidential caucus.
“This is uncharted territory here, so I can’t blame them,” Luersen said.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul initiated having a caucus last summer. Paul, who has since dropped out of the presidential race, convinced Kentucky Republican leaders to switch to an early caucus instead of a May 17 primary election. Paul wanted to run for both president and re-election to the U.S. Senate. State law forbids a candidate from being on the same election ballot for two different offices.
Boone County Clerk Kenny Brown said his office has been receiving lots of calls from people confused about the caucus and seeking more information.
Brown said other aspects of a caucus could surprise people. While Kentucky election laws forbid campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place, it will be different on Saturday. People can campaign outside a caucus as voters are walking in, he said.
“Throw out Kentucky’s election laws,” Brown said.
Mike Biagi, executive director for RPK, said caucus results will be posted only on rpk.org. Results will not be available before 7 p.m. Biagi said his goal is for all results to be posted not long after 7 p.m.
If any counties have not reported when results are first released, they will be noted, Biagi said.
Having a caucus months earlier than a primary election gives Republican voters a stronger voice in picking a presidential candidate, Biagi said.
Reliable predictions for Kentucky’s voter turnout in the caucus are not available, said Stephen Voss, associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky.
Yet Voss said turnout is expected to be low. Low turnout can also be the case for a primary election. Voter turnout across Kentucky for the May 2012 primary election, the last time for a presidential primary, drew 13.9 percent of all registered voters to the polls.
Lots of Republicans are complaining about ill-informed voters, Voss said. Having one place to vote in each county and more limited voting hours than a typical 12-hour primary election day can bring out fewer voters who are more informed.
At least people have the drive to their voting location to really think about who they will support, he said.
“The Republican leaders who are telling you that moving it earlier increases Kentucky’s influence are clearly correct,” Voss said.
Political science data backs up the theory that having an earlier primary or caucus increases a state’s influence in a presidential race.
There is a chance Kentucky’s caucus will matter greatly, he said.
“Until Super Tuesday happens (on March 1) we can’t be sure if Kentucky is going to be a key battle or a footnote,” Voss said.
Walton resident Phyllis Sparks, Boone County caucus chairwoman, said Boone County Republicans have been notified using social media, display boards at all library branches and a “robo-call.”
Sparks said she knows a caucus, earlier than usual, has been an adjustment for everyone.
“It seems like it has upset people because I guess they don’t like change,” Sparks said.
Boone County’s caucus will have 65 volunteers signing in voters and another 25 working to scan and tabulate votes.
“I would just ask the voters to be patient,” Sparks said. “This is a new process.”
How to vote
People who were registered voters in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties by Dec. 31, 2015, may vote at their county caucus sites. Voting will be conducted by secret paper ballot from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. People need to bring valid photo identification such as a driver’s license. Once you’ve cast your vote, you may leave.
• Boone County voters will cast ballots at Florence Baptist Church at Mount Zion, 642 Mount Zion Road, Florence.
• Kenton County voters will cast ballots at Summit View Middle School at 5006 Madison Pike, Independence.
• Campbell County voters will cast ballots at Campbell County High School at 909 Camel Crossing, Alexandria.