Every two years voters from around Kentucky flock to their precincts to select their member for the United States House of Representatives. As a result of months of candidates’ television and print ads, most voters know the number of their district. However, this year on November 6th when Kentuckians from Bath, Fleming, Harrison, Nicholas, Robertson, and Scott counties open their ballots they will find candidate choices in two different congressional districts. Their ballots will look similar to this one, in that it will list a special election for the 4th Congressional District and a general election for the 6th Congressional District. Such an election peculiarity is not a print mistake by the State Board of Elections. Rather, the cause of this dual district voting is both Kentucky’s new redistricting plan and Representative Geoff Davis’s resignation from Congress.
The redistricting scheme that Kentucky implemented following the 2010 census is the main cause of this dual district voting. When redistricting, the state legislators redrew district lines to account for significant population changes in Southeastern and Central Kentucky. Nearly all of the counties in Southeastern Kentucky sustained population losses, while Central Kentucky counties experienced increases as large as twenty-five percent. These inequities created equipopulation challenges for the 2002 maps, especially within the 4th, 5th, and 6th districts. The 2012 maps shifted some Kentucky voters from the 4th District in Northern Kentucky to the 6th District in Central Kentucky, and expanded the Southeast’s 5th District, in order to achieve equipopulation.
Although effective in balancing the district’s population, these changes did not come without their challenges. The redistricting scheme was hotly contested in the Kentucky state legislature, partly for the increase in split counties. The 2012 redistricting map split 6 counties, whereas the 2002 plan had only separated 5. Although raised by Republicans as a potential defect, Kentucky will implement the new plan during the general election on November 6th.
The second cause of the dual district voting is a strange intersection of political events. Representative Geoff Davis, the sitting 4th District Congressional Representative resigned on July 31, 2012 for family health reasons. His resignation created a vacant Kentucky seat in the United States House of Representative. Under such circumstances, most states fill the opening by an appointment or a special election. Under Kentucky law, a seat vacancy requires voters to choose a replacement for the official’s remaining term through a special election. In this case, Davis’s remaining term from the time of resignation was 5 months. Additionally, the statute requires an election be held a minimum of 5 weeks after the vacancy occurs. In compliance with this rule, Governor Beshear announced the special election for November 6th. Even though this date is well after the five week period, according to the Governor’s office, he chose this date in order to save the state $500,000 in election costs.
For this special election Kentuckians will vote in the district to which they were assigned in 2002, when the District elected Representative Davis. Therefore, voters of the 4th District, according to the 2002 maps, will be the only ones permitted to vote in the special election. They will vote for Thomas Massie (R), William Adkins (D), or David Lewis (I). Even though held on the same day, the winner of the special election will be seated immediately, where as the general election winner will be seated in January.
Kentucky’s 2012 Congressional redistricting plan drew new district maps governing all subsequent elections, including the 2012 general election. Therefore, the voters that were in the 4th District in 2002, but are in the 6th District in 2012 will vote in the 6th District for the general election. This dual district scheme means they will cast their ballots for either Massey, Adkins, or Lewis in the 4th District special election, but in the general election they will vote for Andy Barr (R), Ben Chandler (D), or Randolph Vance (I) of the 6th District. Those voters that remain in the 4th District according to both the 2002 and 2012 maps will vote twice for Massie, Adkins, or Lewis, once in the special election and once in the general.
These dual district and voting twice schemes are peculiar election events in Kentucky. One longtime 4th District voter reported that she could not remember a similar event occurring. As this cycle is shaping up to have a number of close races, officials worry this oddity will create voter confusion. However, no party has filed any legal actions regarding these schemes, and the state election board continues to provide sample ballots to educate voters.