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NEWS | June 14, 2020

Ky. Guard to Assist with June 23 Primary Election amid COVID pandemic

By Capt. Cassandra Mullins, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

More than 200 Kentucky National Guard Soldiers and Airmen will assist local officials at polling locations around the state for Kentucky’s upcoming primary election day, June 23, as part of the state’s on-going response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guard members, who will serve in civilian clothes and not in uniform, will perform non-election officer duties including setting up and cleaning poll locations, as well as assisting 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.

Many of Kentucky’s poll workers are older and have to self-quarantine because of high risk factors for the coronavirus, creating a need for extra help at the polls, said Col. Andrew Bates, Kentucky National Guard deputy chief of staff, plans. This partnership will help protect those who are most vulnerable and allow them to remain healthy at home, he said.

“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 neighbor’s lives in times of crisis.”

Lt. Col. Andrew Caldwell, director of Military Support for the Kentucky National Guard, said this is the first time, to his knowledge, the Kentucky Guard has been asked to assist in an election. He said those Soldiers and Airmen who are assisting volunteered to do so.

“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.”

In addition, Caldwell said Guard members will only serve at locations in which election officials requested Kentucky Guard assistance.

The 44 counties requesting Guard support include:

Anderson, Bell, Bourbon, Bracken, Breathitt, Campbell, Christian, Clark, Daviess, Estill, Fayette, Fleming, Fulton, Grant, Graves, Greenup, Hardin, Henderson, Jefferson, Johnson, Kenton, Knott, Lawrence, Leslie, Letcher, Lincoln, Magoffin, Marshall, Martin, Mason, McCreary, Meade, Muhlenberg, Nelson, Nicholas, Pendleton, Perry, Rowan, Shelby, Spencer, Warren, Washington, Webster and Woodford counties.

Richard Vowels, director of the Jefferson County Election Center, said Guard members were invaluable in assisting with setting up poll stations in his county ahead of the election. Vowels said because of social distancing requirements, his center has never had to setup polling locations this large.

“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 cast their vote utilizing drive-through or walk-in stations, Anderson County Clerk Jason Denny said Guard assistance has been a great benefit.

“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, 2020, David Cureton, Kentucky Guard chief warrant officer two, received a thumbs-up from a voter as he directed traffic through a drive-through voting station at the Anthony Stratton Building in Lawrenceburg, Ky.

“I’m just doing my part to help provide support during COVID-19,” Cureton said.

In the wake of the COVID pandemic, the Kentucky National Guard has found itself serving in multiple capacities from assisting with food banks to turning an exhibit hall at the state fairgrounds into a field hospital. This year has presented several missions that require skillsets that are not often required to be used outside of the training environment said Maj. John Kwiek, Kentucky National Guard special project officer.

“Our Kentucky National Guard Soldiers have excelled at every task placed in front of them,” Kwiek said. “Our Soldiers have shown the Commonwealth and their communities that we have been trained to provide assistance in many capacities, both home and abroad.”

With this most recent assignment, Kentucky joins other states who have also recently utilized Guard members in elections, including Nebraska and Wisconsin. While preparing to assist at polls, Kentucky Guard leaders said they studied best practices from the Wisconsin National Guard, who reported a successful election-support mission.

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