A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentuckians left in election fog as Secretary of State prepares for Nov. 14 recanvass of gubernatorial vote

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Preparations continue for the recanvass of the votes in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race, where unofficial results show Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, captured a razor-thin win over incumbent Republican Matt Bevin.

Those results showed Beshear had a margin of 5,189 out of 1.4 million votes cast, although the GOP candidates handily swept the rest of the constitutional officer races.

During a press conference at the Governor’s Mansion on Wednesday, in which Bevin announced the recanvass request, he alleged irregularities in the voting and offered some details.

“We know there have been thousands of absentee ballots that were illegally counted,” Bevin said. “We know that there are reports of people having been incorrectly turned away from various voting booths around the state. Again, these are things that need to be corroborated. We know that in Jefferson County, there were a number of machines that did not work properly, so ballots were taken and put in open boxes and people were told they’d be scanned in later. They may have been, they may not have been. We truly don’t know.”

According to the Attorney General’s office, who operates an election law violation hotline, as of Friday afternoon 137 calls have been made during this election cycle.

A recanvass on the governor’s race will take place Thursday. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

The complaints were lower than the 2018 election when the hotline received more than 500 calls and the voter turnout was 47.5 percent. In 2015, the last gubernatorial election, when the voter turnout was 30.6 percent, there were 79 complaints. This year 42 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.

While the Attorney General’s office, under state law, says they cannot provide details regarding specific complaints or pending investigations, in response to Bevin’s comments, Deputy Attorney General J. Michael Brown says the nature of the calls during this election cycle are similar to those in the past.

“The most common questions received through the hotline were procedural or general legal questions. We have not received any information regarding the referenced irregularities.”

In addition to investigations into calls received on the hotline, Kentucky law requires the Office of the Attorney General to conduct post-election audits in no fewer than 5 percent of Kentucky’s counties after each primary and general election. Recently concluded post-2019 primary election audits of Bourbon, Carter, Fleming, Marion, Muhlenberg and Scott counties showed no potential criminal activity.

Following the public drawing in June, the Department of Criminal Investigations Public Integrity Unit verified election forms and interviewed county officials as part of the audits. The unit investigates numerous areas of potential corruption, including election fraud. The Special Prosecutions Unit, which investigates and prosecutes election law violations, then presented the audit findings to respective grand juries. Under the current administration, all post-election audits have been clean.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the state’s chief election officer, has distributed to all county clerks the Recanvass of Official Count and Record of Election Totals Form to be used by the county boards of elections in reporting all recanvassed votes of candidates seeking the office of governor/lt. governor.

“Both candidates and the public are entitled to confidence in election results, and I stand ready to oversee the recanvass,” said Grimes. “My office is prepared and will continue to provide updates regarding any other recanvass requests we receive and the procedures being followed.”

To obtain a recanvass of votes for offices in which candidates file with the Secretary of State, a candidate must submit a written request to the Secretary of State’s office no later than 4:00 p.m., Eastern Time, on November 12. The request may be limited to certain precincts or counties or seek a statewide recanvass, and the Secretary of State’s Office will communicate the request to all county boards of elections involved.

Pursuant to Kentucky law, the 120 county boards of elections will convene at 9 a.m. on November 14 to recheck and recanvass each voting machine and make a return to the county clerk, which shall become the official return for the county.

Each candidate and both political parties are entitled to have a representative present at the recanvass. In addition, the county board of elections shall authorize members of the media to observe.

The purpose of a recanvass is to verify the accuracy of the vote totals reported from the voting machines. The method for conducting the recanvass depends on the type of voting machine and is set forth in administrative regulation. No voting machines are unlocked during the recanvass. If there was an error in the original canvass, the returns shall be corrected. The county board of elections must file its recanvass report with the Secretary of State immediately upon completion of the recanvass.

Nore Ghibaudy, spokesman for the Jefferson County Clerk’s office responded to the Bevin allegations, calling the claims, “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

Ghibaudy told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the county’s voting machines have a slot on the left side that is locked. If the machine gets jammed or is not working, the ballots are dropped into that secure slot. A technician is called, and elections officers from both the Republican and Democratic parties are there to witness the process, Ghibaudy said.

Once the machine is working again, Ghibaudy said the election officers from both major parties work together to ensure each ballot dropped into the slot is scanned and counted. “You can’t find any ‘open boxes.’ But if you don’t know how machines work, you can believe anything anyone says,” Ghibaudy said. “The equipment we use is approved by the State Board of Elections and the federal government.”

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