Sometimes it all depends on a name.
As expected, last week’s primary election was met with low voter turnout, but even those braving the rainy weather to vote did not always make informed decisions. Voters tended to choose candidates based on names they recognized, or even choosing names at random.
Jonathen Hughes, a Democrat from Louisa, said that for his entire ballot, he closed his eyes, put his finger on the screen and picked because he didn’t know any of the candidates. “I closed my eyes, put my finger on the screen and picked,” he said.
Brian Withers of Louisa said, “ The Lord picked it out and I pushed the button.”
Hughes and Withers were two of 30 voters interviewed at polling places across Lawrence, Martin and Johnson counties on May 17. Many displayed a lack of information about the candidates, especially those farther down the ballot, where random picks were more common and some voters did not remember their choices.
Voters seemed to have most information about the Republican nomination for governor. It was the subject of the most news coverage and advertising and was at the top of the ballot.
Of the 14 Republicans who revealed their votes, 10 said they chose state Senate President David Williams, who got 48 percent of the statewide vote. The four who chose Louisville businessman Phil Moffett or Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw had more specific reasons. Ronnie Blair of Paintsville said he chose Moffett’s support for legalizing industrial hemp earned his vote. A Paintsville woman who declined to identify herself said she chose Holsclaw because she knew her personally and wanted a female governor.
Those who voted for Williams had more varying opinions. “I like how he’s handling the Senate,” said Betty See of Louisa. Craig Preece of Inez said he thought Williams had shown strong leadership. Still, others said they voted based simply on recognition of Williams. Barbara Mullen of Louisa said she voted for him based on a recorded phone call she received the day before the election. Campaigns identify frequent voters and target them with such calls.
The top race on Democrats’ ballots was for secretary of state. Alison Lundergan Grimes, the daughter of former state party chairman Jerry Lundergan, won 55 percent of the vote against Secretary of State Elaine Walker, whom Beshear appointed in January.
In Paintsville, Daniel Gardner said he recognized Grimes from her father’s name, while Mellissa Howard said she chose Grimes at random. More Democrats interviewed said they voted for Walker, one because of a recorded phone call from Beshear, but others said they picked her at random.
Another Democratic race, for agriculture commissioner, had five candidates, at least two with familiar names. Robert Farmer, spokesman for the Farmer’s Almanac, winning with 30 percent. He may have benefited from sharing a last name with Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, who is running for lieutenant governor with Williams.
Juanita Blankenship of Fallsburg said she chose Farmer because she received a recorded phone call from his campaign and because his name was most familiar to her.
David Lynn Williams, who is not related to the Senate president but has made frequent races based on his name recognition and won the nomination to face Richie Farmer four years ago, received 13 percent.
Gardner said he chose Richmond lawyer-farmer John Lackey based on a commercial, in which Lackey featured one of his old cows. Lela Ray of Paintsville said she chose former Mongtomery County Judge-Executive B.D. Wilson because she knew someone with those initials. Alan Short of Louisa said he chose Wilson based on advice from coworkers.
The Republican race for agriculture commissioner had only two names — state Rep. James Comer of Tompkinsville, who got 67 percent of the vote against Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger. Linda Carter of Inez said Rothenburger’s name was too long. Lloyd Browning of Louisa said he thought the position was redundant and the responsibilities involved could be performed by another department.
Some decisions came down to gender. The only close race was the Republican primary for secretary of state. Tea Party-endorsed Bill Johnson won by about 1,000 votes over Hilda Legg. Some voters in Paintsville said they chose Legg because they, or people they knew, were familiar with Legg’s work for the party and federal agencies in Washington.
Republican voters in Louisa were not as definitive about their decisions in the race, most saying they just picked a candidate.
Carter said she chose Legg because she was female, and picked state Rep. Addia Wuchner for auditor for the same reason.
Kirsten Clancy of Lawrence County is a student in the UK School of Journalism and Telecommunications and an intern for the school’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.