Enquirer News Update   -   Updated 6:40 p.m.

Long lines, few problems in Kentucky

The Associated Press

Jim Bunning
U.S. Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), leaves the voting booth in Southgate this morning. (Enquirer photo/Michael E. Keating)
Long lines and few problems were reported as voters around Kentucky went to the polls Tuesday to weigh in on everything from the presidential contest to a constitutional amendment on gay marriage.

The ballot also included a bitter U.S. Senate contest between Republican incumbent Jim Bunning and Democratic challenger Daniel Mongiardo.

Despite heavy rain in the western part of the state, precinct workers reported long lines. In Warren County, voters were lined up before the polls opened at 6 a.m. CST. Some workers said they had never seen lines so long. As many as 50 voters waited for the precinct doors to open in some locations.

Lines also formed early in the south-central city Somerset, according to poll workers there.

In Jefferson County, Board of Elections spokeswoman Paula McCraney said she expects voter turnout to reach 70 to 72 percent - even with dark, rainy skies that lasted through most of the morning.

Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw concurred.

"Despite the rain, voter turnout in Louisville was steady throughout the morning," Holsclaw said. "That's good, we want them to get out and vote."

Les Fugate, spokesman for the state board of election, said that office in predicting that 70 percent of registered voters will make it to the polls.

"Hopefully, the rain won't dampen that," Fugate said.

In 2000, during the last presidential race, Kentucky had a 61.3 percent voter turnout. The record turnout was in 1992 when around 73 percent of voters cast ballots, he said.

By election eve, there were 56,630 absentee ballots cast with a possible 41,044 additional votes if all people return the ballots sent out by mail.

In the state, there are 2,794,286 registered voters, an increase of 237,471 voters, or 9.2 percent over the number registered in the 2000 presidential election year.

Fayette County also reported a heavy turnout early in the day. People were seen holding signs all over Lexington, some in support of candidates and other in opposition. One voter said he had to wait 40 minutes to cast his ballot.

There were some minor problems at different polling places, officials said, but they were taken care of promptly.

In Jefferson County, Holsclaw said her office received some complaints of electioneering because people with signs apparently were too close to the polls and some people were reportedly approaching voters.

"As soon as we get those type of calls, we send someone out there right away," Holsclaw said.

She said if sheriff's deputies find people electioneering, they will disperse them.

Today's election marks Kentucky's first since 1998 without a statewide electioneering law. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January that the state law banning candidates and campaign volunteers from within 500 feet of the polls violated free speech rights.

Of the state's 120 counties, 101 have adopted local laws or arranged to prevent political operatives from crowding polling places. In counties without local bans, campaign workers can stand at the doors of the polling places to hand out literature, hold signs or try to talk to voters. They are barred from going inside.

Jefferson County's electioneering law bans campaign volunteers within 200 feet of a polling place.

In Lexington, two voting machines turned up at the wrong locations and had to be switched.

Voters, meanwhile, were adamant about their choices in the races for president and senate.

At a polling place in Louisville's east end, some voters said they weren't splitting their tickets.

Jim Dahlem, a real estate executive, said he voted for George Bush and Jim Bunning.

He cited Bush's handling of the war on terror.

"I think he's handling the war on terror in the correct manner and I have confidence in him to do the job," Dahlem said.

He said Bunning had handled his first Senate term well.

"He's been our senator and in Congress for a long time and I think he's represented our state very well, and I don't think there's a reason to switch," Dahlem said.

In the same district, Cecy Grisham said she voted for John Kerry and Daniel Mongiardo.

"I'm a Democrat," Grisham said. "I have a social work background and its hard to be a social worker and be a Republican."

Grisham, a nursing home administrator, said she voted for Mongiardo, a doctor from Hazard, because of his standing in long-term care.

"Bunning has none nothing for nursing homes," Grisham said.

In Louisville's central city, voter Regina Moore said lines wrapped around the building.

"I convinced my husband to vote this year for the first time in 20 years," Moore said.

She was among several workers in the center located in the largely black central business district. Moore said she voted for Kerry and Mongiardo because of the war in Iraq and a lack of jobs.

Dan Cassin, a student at Bellarmine University, said he voted for George Bush because of his "integrity. He has a lot of views the same as I," Cassin said.

Asked how he made up his mind, he said he watched a PBS documentary on the candidates last night. Cassin said he cast a provisional ballot because his name was not on the rolls and he could only vote for federal offices.