FRANKFORT, Ky. – More than 200 Kentucky National Guard Soldiers and Airmen will assist at polling locations around the state for the June 23 primary election as part of the state’s COVID-19 response.
Guard members will set up and clean poll locations and assist with traffic, parking and crowd control in a non-law enforcement capacity under the direction of election officers. The Kentucky National Guard will not perform duties reserved for trained election officials, including handling ballots or screening voters to determine who can vote. They will serve in civilian clothes.
The Guard is needed because many poll workers are older and have to self-quarantine to avoid getting the coronavirus, said Col. Andrew Bates, Kentucky National Guard deputy chief of staff, plans.
“The National Guard has been asked to help in many different ways around the commonwealth, as we stand together against the COVID pandemic,” Bates said. “This is just another way the Kentucky Guard is making a difference in their neighbors' lives in times of crisis.”
Lt. Col. Andrew Caldwell, director of military support for the Kentucky National Guard, said he believed it was the first time the Kentucky Guard has been asked to assist in an election. He said those Soldiers and Airmen who are assisting volunteered.
“We are here to support the commonwealth,” Caldwell said. “At a time when most of the volunteers at the polling stations are in the high-risk category for the coronavirus, we are here to step into that role and protect our state and our citizens.”
Caldwell said Guard members will only serve where election officials requested help. So far, that's in 44 counties.
Richard Vowels, director of the Jefferson County Election Center, said Guard members were invaluable in helping set up poll stations. He said social distancing requirements mean polling locations must be larger than usual.
“Our office does not have many employees in it,” Vowels said. “We could not have made this happen without them (the Guard),” he said. “The help has really been tremendous.”
In Anderson County, where residents can already vote at drive-through or walk-in stations, Anderson County Clerk Jason Denny said he appreciated the Guard's assistance.
“The Soldiers have been helping us with traffic control and doing things like sanitizing voting stations to help prevent the spread of the virus,” he said. “It’s been very beneficial. We appreciate the Guard being able to do this for us.”
On June 12, Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Cureton received a thumbs-up from a voter as he directed traffic through a drive-through voting station at the Anthony Stratton Building in Lawrenceburg.
“I’m just doing my part to help provide support during COVID-19,” Cureton said.
Other states that have received election help from the National Guard include Nebraska and Wisconsin. Kentucky Guard leaders said they studied best practices used by the Wisconsin National Guard, where members served as poll workers and helped in other ways during recent elections.