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Kentucky Polling Places Cut by the Thousands. That Affects Gun Violence Prevention.

Today, the Washington Post reported there will be fewer than 200 polling places open for Kentucky’s primary tomorrow – a drastic decrease and a threat to voter access. In Jefferson County, home to the city of Louisville, there will be just one polling place open for more than 700,000 residents. In Jefferson County, 1 in 5 residents are Black people. 

The vast majority of Americans support common-sense gun safety, and it has become clear that elections play a crucial role in strengthening this country’s gun laws. Safe and equitable access to the ballot and having that ballot counted are bedrock principles of American democracy and critical to the success of a people-powered movement to end gun violence. This is particularly vital — and particularly at risk — in a time of national crisis.

Kentucky is not the only state to face voter access challenges. Earlier this month, Georgia experienced a “complete meltdown,” as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, when some voters in Atlanta had to wait hours to cast their ballots. In Wisconsin, only five polling locations were open on Election Day in Milwaukee, a city where 41 percent of residents are Black. 

Thursday marks the seventh anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and upended decades of progress. Ever since, states and localities have reverted to discriminatory practices that restrict the voting rights of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and have put up unnecessary roadblocks to the ballot box. Elections are a crucial means of expressing support of sensible gun laws and people should be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote safely and equitably, even during a pandemic.

Black people in America are experiencing dual public health crises – continued gun violence and now, the impacts COVID-19. Gun violence disproportionately impacts Black people in America, and in Kentucky, Black people are seven times as likely as white people to die by gun homicide.

In April, following a virtual conversation with Fair Fight Action founder Stacey Abrams, Everytown for Gun Safety and its grassroots networks, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, released a set of principles to protect voting rights and expand voter access amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Following recommendations to protect voting proposed by Fair Fight Action and the Brennan Center, states should prioritize other alternatives, like vote by mail, early voting, increased safety at polling places, and maximizing voter registration and protection efforts. Read more about Everytown’s support for protecting voting rights here.