Open and shut

May 13, 2008 at 8:32 pm

When it comes to voting in a state primary, Kentucky’s a closed shop.
Translation: Registered Republicans cannot vote in the Democratic primary and vice versa. If you’re a registered independent, you can’t vote here at all. Kentucky is one of 29 states with closed primaries. In states with open primaries, like Virginia, anyone can vote in any partisan primary, regardless of which party they’re registered with.

Deputy Secretary of State Les Fugate says Kentucky’s closed status grew out of a need to prevent political parties from “raiding” each other, i.e. voting in the opposing party’s primary for someone who more closely fits your ideological beliefs or political strategy. Many state legislators are leery of changing the law. “No one really gets excited,” he says.

Secretary of State Trey Grayson’s office hasn’t heard many complaints from voters about Kentucky’s May 20 primary being late — and therefore irrelevant — Fugate says. Kentucky was part of Super Tuesday in 1988, for example, and still received few visits from presidential candidates.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, proposed a measure in the last General Assembly that would bump up Kentucky’s primary to Super Tuesday in 2011, but the House took no action on the bill. —Mat Herron

Competition costs the same

If Kentucky had a more competitive primary — one that took place in, say, February, or even October — it would still cost Kentuckians the same amount it does now, deputy Secretary of State Les Fugate says: about $7 million.


Programming of election machines, printing of ballots and paying the poll workers are the three main costs to staging a primary in a presidential election year. The total bill is split, with state government paying a million and the counties bearing the rest.

To be more competitive with other states, Kentucky would have to hold its presidential primary voting and voting for other offices on two different dates. Fugate says that is more cost effective than, for instance, a national primary day.

“There is no way that an underfunded candidate could ever become president,” he said, using former president Bill Clinton as an example.

By taking advantage of the current staggered primary schedule, Clinton was able to gain momentum, and eventually, the 1992 democratic nomination. —Mat Herron