‘Kentucky Cutting Polling Places’

On June 20 2023, an Imgur account shared a screenshot of a tweet about “Kentucky polling places,” specifically about a purported closure ahead of “Tuesday’s” primary:

An image attached to the tweet was visible in the screenshot, but its date and time stamp were not part of the image. Its was attributed to a credible soure, journalist Ari Berman (@AriBerman) of Mother Jones, and it read:

Fact Check

Claim: “Kentucky [is] cutting [the] number of polling places for Tuesday’s primary from 3700 to 200[.] There will be one polling place for 616,000 registered voters in Louisville’s Jefferson County, where half state’s black voters live[.] This is going to be a disaster[.]”

Description: The claim suggested that Kentucky was reducing the number of polling places from 3700 to 200. The statement was initially true for June 2020 due to pandemic preventive measures, but the screenshot of the original tweet making this claim was shared on Imgur in June 2023, without context and misleadingly suggesting that it referred to the current situation.

Rating: Decontextualized

Rating Explanation: Although the claim was correct referring to the situation in June 2020, it was decontextualized when shared on Imgur in June 2023. By then, many more polling stations had been opened in Kentucky according to the state’s elections website.

Kentucky cutting number of polling places for Tuesday’s primary from 3700 to 200

There will be one polling place for 616,000 registered voters in Louisville’s Jefferson County, where half state’s black voters live

This is going to be a disaster

Under the text, a photograph of a largely empty polling place appeared. It showed stacks of unused ballots — hinting at inaccessible voting — and was shared on a Tuesday, June 20 2023.

However, Ballotpedia’s 2023 “Kentucky Elections” page indicated that a primary election in Kentucky took place on May 16 2023. More than a month had passed between Kentucky’s 2023 primary and the Imgur post’s appearance.

Initially, we were unable to locate a copy of Berman’s tweet. Our search finally returned the actual tweet, which was published three years previously, on June 19 2020:

On Imgur, the screenshot also cropped out the element underneath the photograph of an empty polling place. It was a Washington Post article, and a text preview revealed a partial title: “Kentucky braces for possible voting problems in Tuesday’s pri …”

An archived copy of that article (“Kentucky braces for possible voting problems in Tuesday’s primary amid signs of high turnout”) showed that, like the Berman tweet, it was published on June 19 2020. It began:

Fewer than 200 polling places will be open for voters in Kentucky’s primary Tuesday [June 23 2020], down from 3,700 in a typical election year. Amid a huge influx in requests for mail-in ballots, some voters still had not received theirs days before they must be turned in. And turnout is expected to be higher than in past primaries because of a suddenly competitive fight for the Democratic Senate nomination.

The scenario has voting rights advocates and some local elections officials worried that the state is careening toward a messy day marked by long lines and frustrated voters — similar to the scenes that have played out repeatedly this spring as the novel coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the 2020 primaries.

Because of a shortage of workers willing to staff voting sites during the health crisis, each of the commonwealth’s 120 counties is opening a very limited number of polling locations. The two largest counties will have just one in-person location each.

Contextually, some of the described changes to the 2020 Kentucky primary could have been initially chalked up to early pandemic preventive measures — had the date not been cropped away. In the same article, the Washington Post referenced concerns about Black residents in Jefferson County, Kentucky (as did Berman’s tweet):

On Thursday evening [June 18 2020], a federal judge rejected an effort to add polling places in the state’s largest counties, citing a legal standard discouraging last-minute court intervention in election procedures.

That means Jefferson County — the state’s largest, home to 767,000 residents and the city of Louisville — will have as its sole polling location a convention and expo center where voting booths have been set up about eight feet apart in a cavernous hall. About 1 in 5 residents in the county is African American, the largest black population in the state.

On Imgur, the thread’s top comment said that the “story [was] from 2020,” but it did not contain any link to any additional information. That was likely because the article shared by Berman was behind the Washington Post‘s paywall, rendering it inaccessible to readers  attempting to validate the claim before sharing it; a photograph at the top of the page was blurred, preventing visitors from matching the article to the tweet if they landed on the site.

A caption on the archived version revealed that the image was of the single polling place open in Jefferson County in — once again — June 2020:

Jefferson County election officials prepared the Kentucky Exposition Center to serve as the county’s only in-person voting location for Tuesday’s primary [June 23 2020] in Louisville, Kentucky. (Jason Dobbins /Jefferson County Clerk’s Office)

On June 23 2020, PolitiFact.com examined claims made about Kentucky, including the content of the Washington Post article, explaining:

The number of polling places for the June 23 [2020] primary is significantly lower than in previous elections. At the secretary of state’s website, we counted fewer than 170 Election Day voting sites in Kentucky’s 120 counties. This reduction of in-person sites was challenged in court, but a judge rejected the complaint.

About half of Kentucky’s African American population lives in Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, or 168,182 out of 365,332 statewide.

Jefferson County has 616,523 registered voters, and there’s only one polling place open on Election Day in Jefferson County, at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.

So there has been a drastic reduction in polling sites.

Berman’s tweet, the Washington Post article, and PolitiFact all used words like “Tuesday,” “next week,” and “upcoming.” As a result, elements of that claim could circulate in perpetuity — particular when artful cropping enabled Imgur virality on a random Tuesday, such as June 20 2023.

We finally found updated information on Kentucky’s elections website, elect.ky.gov, and its “Polling Places” page. Kentucky did not make it easy or intuitive to determine whether more polling places had opened between the restrictions of social distancing in June 2020 and the May 2023 primary election. That information appeared on a downloadable spreadsheet, which indicated that far more than just one polling place existed in Jefferson County, Kentucky as of June 2023.

On the spreadsheet, Jefferson County polling locations began on row 680, and continued down to row 886 (the “Zachary Taylor Elementary School Gym”):

kentucky polling places 2023

On June 20 2023, an Imgur account shared an undated tweet about “Kentucky polling places,” suggesting that Kentucky was “cutting” the number of polling places “from 3700 to 200.” That was true for June 2020, and the claim was fact-checked at the time. A widely available spreadsheet on elect.ky.gov indicated a large number of polling places were open in Jefferson County, and date-related context about the then-novel pandemic in June 2020 were not part of the Imgur post’s presentation.