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Co-ops urge voter turnout 

THE EFFORT TO INCREASE VOTER TURNOUT in Kentucky faces strong headwinds in this year’s primary election. 

Because primaries in other states have already awarded enough delegates for President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump to secure their respective party’s nominations, Kentucky’s primary election on May 21 could struggle to attract voters. 

That’s not stopping Kentucky’s electric cooperatives and Secretary of State Michael Adams from partnering on Co-ops Vote, an ongoing effort to boost voter registration and turnout. 

“Co-ops Vote echoes the democratic values deeply embedded within electric cooperatives,” says Mallory Wafzig, manager of cooperative outreach for Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. “At the heart of every electric co-op is the principle of democratic control. Each member has an equal vote in the election of co-op directors and trustees. This commitment to democracy extends to engagement with the broader community.” 

“After Co-ops Vote launched in 2016, we saw steady improvements in voter turnout in our rural counties,” Adams says. “Yet in the 2022 general election, Kentucky saw just 41% voter turnout. In the 2023 general election we saw just 38% of registered voters participate in primary elections. 

“That’s disappointing to say the least,” Adams continues, “especially when you consider that voting in Kentucky has never been more convenient and never been more secure. We have implemented no-excuse early voting on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before each Election Day.” 

Though primary elections typically draw fewer voters than general elections in the fall, voter turnout is trending downward even in general elections. 

A review of State Board of Elections data in the last 10 presidential elections shows Kentucky voter turnout has yet to rebound since a steep decline in voter participation 28 years ago. In 1992, Kentucky reported 73.2% of registered voters cast a ballot in the general election. Just four years later, voter turnout dropped to 59.3%. Despite modest increases in subsequent presidential election cycles, voter turnout dipped even lower, to 59.1% in 2016, then clawed back to 60.3% in 2020. 

At the Kentucky State Capitol in February, nearly 100 high school students representing electric cooperatives across the commonwealth on the Frankfort Youth Tour joined Adams to kick off the 2024 Co-ops Vote campaign. 

“Voting is not just a right, it’s a privilege that generations before us fought tirelessly to secure,” says Sophia Stover, a Central Hardin High School senior who partnered with Hardin County Clerk Brian D. Smith and Nolin RECC to launch the first county-level Co-ops Vote project last year. 

Stover addressed the youth tour students. “Let’s honor their sacrifices by actively participating in the democratic process. Our future is in our hands, and it’s up to us to shape it.” 

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