Controversy surrounds gubernatorial election

Governor-elect Andy Beshear gave his acceptance speech in Louisville, Kentucky on Nov. 5. (Photo courtesy of KET)

Daniella Tebib

News Editor

dtebib@murraystate.edu

Polls closed at 6 p.m. on Nov. 5 from the Eastern Time Zone to the Central Time Zone in Kentucky, but the election results are still not official yet.

Governor-elect Andy Beshear secured the position with 709,577 votes, according to unofficial results from the Kentucky State Board of Elections. However, incumbent candidate Matt Bevin followed close behind with 704,388 votes and Libertarian candidate John Hicks received 28,245 votes.

More than 1.4 million voters showed up to the polls, resulting in a higher voter turnout than expected. According to unofficial results from the state’s secretary office, voter turnout was over 42 percent, compared to 30.7 percent of voters who participated in the 2015 gubernatorial election. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes predicted only a 31 percent turnout ahead of this year’s election.

After the polls closed and votes were tallied, Beshear greeted an enthusiastic crowd in Louisville, Kentucky, for his acceptance speech.

“I haven’t had an opportunity yet to speak to Gov. Bevin,” Beshear said. “But, my expectation is that he will honor the election that was held tonight and that he will help us make this transition. I’ll tell you what, we will be ready for that first day in office and I look forward to it.”

However, incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin refused to concede on election night.

According to state law, there are three options for Bevin at this point in challenging the results.

The first option is to request a recanvass, in which county clerks would review machine totals in each of Kentucky’s 120 counties including absentee votes and check the printouts to ensure accuracy when they were sent to the State Board of Elections.

The next option is an official recount of each of the more than 1.4 million votes that were cast.

The last time there was a recanvass in the state’s gubernatorial race was the 1899 election of Democrat William Goebel as governor, who was assassinated just three days later, according to www.explorekyhistory.com.

Bevin could then file a written request to contest the election, which would have to happen within 30 days of the State Board of Elections certifying the results. This is scheduled to occur on Nov. 25.

Bevin exercised his right to ask the secretary of state for a recanvass, which is scheduled for Nov. 14 at 9 a.m.

“As the Republican candidate for Kentucky Governor in the November 5, 2019 election, this is to request, pursuant to KRS 117.305(1), a check and recanvass of the voting machines and absentee ballots of all precincts in Kentucky involving my race for Governor,” according to the letter Bevin sent Grimes.

Drew Seib, interim chair and associate professor of political science, estimates the recanvass should take about a day.

Bevin’s campaign manager, David Paine, cited an irregularity as his reasoning for requesting a recanvass.

“The people of Kentucky deserve a fair and honest election,” Paine said. “With reports of irregularities, we are exercising the right to ensure that every lawful vote was counted.”

Seib said an irregularity can be defined as anything from a precinct running out of ballots, staying open later than 6 p.m. or last-minute ballots showing up.

For example, Paul Foote, associate professor of political science, said an election irregularity occurred in the Virginia election.

“One voter’s flawed attempt to be counted in Newport News in December helped decide a pivotal Virginia House election and political control of the chamber,” Foote said. “The bubbles for both candidates, David Yancey and Shelly Simonds, were filled in, but Simonds’ had a slash through it. A court had to decide the voter’s intent, which tied the race and set up the infamous name drawing out of the bowl. But, had the voter simply asked for another ballot after their mistake, the whole thing could have been avoided.”

Should Bevin decide to challenge the results from the recanvass, he would have to ask a circuit court judge to order a recount.

However, Seib said he does not believe a recount is necessary.

“There are several thousand votes that separate the two candidates,” Seib said. “It is very unlikely that a recount will change those results much, and I cannot see it changing the outcome of this election.”

Seib said almost every state has a procedure to permit recounts and 20 have a process where a recount is automatic if the vote difference falls within a certain percent. However, Kentucky does not have any procedures listed that require an automatic recount.

The recount process, if initiated, must be completed by Dec. 10, which is when the next governor will take the oath of office. This process is paid for by the candidate, not the state.

State Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the decision could also come down to the Republican-controlled state legislature should Bevin contest the recount results.

“There’s less than one-half of 1 percent as I understand, separating the governor and the attorney general,” Stivers said. “We will follow the letter of the law and what various processes determine.”

Seib said it is highly unlikely and a major political risk to allow the legislature to make the decision.

However, should it occur, Seib said the process begins with the formation of a board with three members from the Senate and eight from the House to hear a complaint against the election. The members would then decide if there is merit to the complaint and if it was egregious enough to conclude an election never really happened. If this  decision is reached, a new election would be called.

While Beshear unofficially won the seat of governor, the rest of those elected in the state races on Nov. 5 were members of the Republican party.

Following the recanvass and any other procedures to ensure the fairness of the election, if Beshear is still confirmed as the governor, James Clinger, associate professor of political science, predicts he may run into difficulties.

“Gov. Beshear will have a hard time getting his agenda through the General Assembly,” Clinger said. “He wants expanded gaming, but that does not seem likely to pass. He may veto a number of bills, but those can be overridden. Kentucky’s constitution allows a veto to be overridden by a simple majority of those elected in each chamber. There is no two-thirds requirement as in Congress. Beshear may try to get around the legislature with executive orders, but that is difficult when the legislature is not supportive.”

The News will continue to follow the controversy surrounding the election in the coming weeks.